In 1990, there was no relationship between someone’s weight or diabetes and their income. It would have been funny to have that kind of conversation.
That’s not true at all in 2020. Today, the correlation is painfully dramatic.
It’s been argued that the weight/income correlation applies only to women, but one researcher at Ohio State found that was not correct. Extra weight costs both men and women in every way.
It depends a bit on race and gender, but, as a rule, research study after study shows that if you lose weight, you will on average make more money. And more interesting, if an overweight or obese person loses a significant amount of weight, on average, they will earn as much as a quarter to a half of a million dollars in their life.
Want to know who wins the most? Want to know just how much weight you need to take off to make it all happen? The research is absolutely startling. The study found that the link between weight loss and wealth gains was particularly strong among white women. Black women and white men also gained wealth as they lost weight, but not as much as did white women. The wealth of black men was basically unaffected by their weight.
There’s no way to tell from the data whether losing weight was the reason for the gain in wealth, but the linkage was definitely there, said Jay Zagorsky, author of the study and a research scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research.
“The typical person who loses or gains a few pounds had almost no change in wealth, but those who lost or gained large amounts of weight had a more dramatic change,” Zagorsky said.
For example, white women who dropped their body mass index score (BMI) – a standard measure of obesity – by 10 points saw a wealth increase of $11,880. White men saw an increase of $12,720 for a similar drop, while black women increased wealth by $4,480.
The study appears in the Journal Economics and Human Biology.
The study used data involving about 7,300 people who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which is funded primarily by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The NLSY is a nationally representative survey of people nationwide conducted by Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research.
The same people are interviewed repeatedly, giving Zagorsky the opportunity to see how the obesity levels and wealth of respondents changed over time. Zagorsky used data from 12 NLSY surveys conducted between 1985 and 2000 All the respondents were between 21 and 28 years old in 1985.
Using each respondent’s height and weight figures, Zagorsky was able to calculate their BMI scores. Scores under 18.5 are considered underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 are normal, 25 to 29.9 are overweight, and 30 or higher are considered obese.
Find out what other results the study showed by continuing with the article.
The respondents also gave information about their net worth, which included home values, cash savings, stocks, bonds, and auto values, among other assets. Outstanding debts were subtracted from that total to arrive at net worth.
Overall, the results showed that a one unit increase in a young person’s BMI was associated with a $1,300 or 8 percent reduction in wealth. But the changes varied dramatically by ethnicity and gender.
Increases in BMI had no link with the wealth of black men, and were associated with small negative changes in the wealth of white men. Increases in BMI were linked to medium negative changes in wealth for black women and large negative changes for white women.
The results suggest each category of race and gender has a different ideal BMI to maximize wealth, Zagorsky said.
White women had peak net worth at the low end of the normal range (BMI 20), white males and black women reached peak net worth at the upper end of the normal range (BMI 24) and black males peaked in the obese range (BMI 32).
Zagorsky emphasized that participants in this study had to lose quite a bit of weight to show strong improvements in wealth.
For example, when a typical young person decreased his or her BMI by one point, wealth increased by only $234. But when a person lost enough weight to go from the middle of the overweight category (BMI 27.5) to the middle of the normal category (BMI 21.7), wealth increased by an average of $4,085.
“If you really want to impact your wealth, you have to move from overweight or obese into the normal range,” he said. “You can’t just drop 5 or 10 pounds and change your wealth.”
The data in this study can’t tell us whether a person’s wealth affects obesity, or whether obesity affects wealth. However, Zagorsky said it is more likely that weight influences wealth. An analysis of people in the study who received inheritances – suddenly increasing their wealth – showed no dramatic changes in their BMI scores in the following years. This suggests that wealth does not have a strong influence on weight.
However, if weight does affect wealth, there is also the question of how it does so. One possible explanation would be that overweight and obese people are discriminated against in the workforce, and don’t earn as much money as normal weight people. Women, particularly white women, may be held to particularly high standards for beauty, which could explain why they gained more wealth compared to men as they lost more weight. But there is no way to tell for sure from this data, Zagorsky said.
Meanwhile, research done by Jennifer Shinall at Vanderbilt shows women are greater beneficiaries of weight loss and penalized more for weight gain. Specifcally, in the women who are 13 pounds overweight earn $9,000 less per year than normal weight women. Worse? Significantly overweight women earn $19,000 less per year than women of normal weight.
What about very thin women? Shinall says they earn $22,000 MORE than women of normal weight.
Shinall is an associate law professor and says the study controls for education which increases the probability that the results are in significant part on the employer side of the equation.
It’s also very possible that lower income employees on average are more overweight than their counterparts.
While legal scholars and politicians sort out causes and effects the real message at the human level is to put serious effort into weight reduction for those overweight. Someone losing out on $10,000 is going to cost themselves a half of a million dollars in earnings in their career.
What are some new and valuable tips?
Variety may be the spice of life — and a key contributor to an expanding waistline.
Research by Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, challenges the conventional notion that a person’s ability to control eating and stick to a successful diet has solely to do with willpower.
Little-understood contextual cues — such as how food is displayed and its variety of colors — can lead people to overindulge and unknowingly bulk up, he says in an article he wrote that has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
For example, adults offered six colored flavors of jellybeans mixed together in the same bowl ate 69 percent more than when the colors were each placed in separate bowls.
In another study, moviegoers given M&Ms in 10 colors ate 43 percent more than those offered the same number of M&Ms in seven colors. Wansink and co-author Barbara E. Kahn, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that not just variety, but the perception of variety, stimulates how much a person consumes.
“People eat with their eyes, and their eyes trick their stomachs,” Wansink said in an interview. “If we think there’s more variety in a candy dish or on a buffet table, we will eat more. The more colors we see, the more we eat.”
In the case of jellybeans, a variety of flavors in a bowl was greeted by such comments as “looks really colorful,” “feels enjoyable,” “satisfied as I ate” and “gives me at least one flavor that I like.”
An earlier study by Wansink found that moviegoers given an extra-large bucket of popcorn will eat up to 50 percent more than those given a container one size smaller — even when the popcorn is stale.
Other studies have found that, hungry or not, office employees will eat more if their desks are stocked with food, or if the food is nearby, or if the package is open, or if the container holding the food is clear rather than opaque.
“Many of us are reasonably diligent about what we eat, but we don’t put that much thought into how much we eat,” Wansink said. “People may decide to eat grapes instead of potato chips because it’s healthier. Once they make that initial choice, they tend not to monitor how much they eat. And a pound of grapes isn’t calorie-free.”
Consumers need to become more aware of how color, package size, variety and physical proximity influence the amount of food they ingest.
“If we ate 100 fewer calories a day, instead of gaining 10 pounds at the end of a year, maybe we’d lose 10 pounds. Small factors, like the type of candy bowl in your office, might add five more Hershey’s Kisses a day to your diet,” he said.
“People may say: ‘What’s the big deal? Five more chocolates isn’t that significant.’ But five more chocolates is 125 more calories per day. Over a month of weekdays, that’s 2,500 calories, or two-thirds of a pound.”
Wansink, the director of the Food & Brand Lab at Illinois, offered several tips about ways to curb overeating:
* Avoid multiple bowls of the same food at parties or receptions because they increase perceptions of variety and stimulate overeating.
* At buffets and receptions avoid having more than two different foods on your plate at the same time.
Wansink’s tips for mothers and food vendors to promote healthy eating include:
* Arrange foods into organized patterns and avoid cramming meal tables or restaurant display cases with too much variety.
* Arrange fruits and vegetables in less-organized patterns to stimulate appetites.
* Assemble smaller helpings of more items for children or elderly adults with finicky eating habits.
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