I’ve written before about obesity issues - mostly related to soda and diet soda (the message – even diet soda isn’t good for you – try to drink water instead) and also that even being a little overweight can still result in health problems. But a new study, coming out of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth, shows that obesity can also impact you economically with obese people earning less than the rest of the population on average.

Hopefully this information will help provide greater motivation for people struggling with obesity since sometimes it takes more than a simple understanding of health and self interest to sufficiently motivate people to take action. But it also raises questions about the reasons for average lower pay.

The study reveals that in 2004, obese women made an average of $8666 less than the general population and obese men made an average of $4772 less. There are some race-related differences as well – most notably that African-American men who were overweight earned MORE than African-American men of normal weight. You can find out more in this news report and from the study itself.

It has been established that there are costs to being obese in terms of increased healthcare, etc. but this study did not look at both ends of the spectrum – income AND costs, so it is unclear what overlap there is with previous studies. The big question, however, is around the cause and effect.

Are obese people being paid less because they perform less well or because they are being discriminated against, whether consciously or unconsciously?

Jan Gurley is an internist physician who practices in a homeless clinic for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. She blogs at Doc Gurley: Posts from an Insane Healthcare System where this post originally appeared.

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5 Responses for “Obesity Means Lower Pay”

  1. MD as HELL says:

    Do you have a point?

  2. “Are obese people being paid less because they perform less well or because they are being discriminated against, whether consciously or unconsciously?”

    It’s an interesting thought. It might be because health issues as a result of obesity cause them to take more sick/personal time and they lose money because of it.

  3. Sharp66 says:

    It might be because health issues as a result of obesity cause them to take more sick/personal time and they lose money because of it.

    As a person considered to be morbidly obese, I’ll only say that I am healtheir than a great majority of my coworkers, who are out all the time with assorted colds, migraines, and other illnesses. Those of us who do get sick tend to do so because of the way we’re treated at the doctor’s office when we go for a checkup or for a symptom. Doesn’t matter what the symptom is–a cold, fever, sore elbow, abdominal pain–80 percent of the time, the doctor will blame it on the weight and not bother to look further. Just, “Lose some weight and you’ll feel better!”

    I know of numerous examples where people have gotten that response and it ended up being something serious that had nothing whatsoever to do with weight. Therefore, we don’t bother going back to the doctor for fear of being hounded and ignored all at the same time.

    I would lay odds that that reason is behind a good portion of the increased cost of medical care for the obese.

  4. JediGeek says:

    I don’t see how a relationship between outright *obesity* and pay could be “new news”, because the relationship between “beauty” and earnings is well established.

    In America, to be “attractive” one must be “thin”. In “The Devil Wears Prada”, the evil boss character remarks, “size 2 is the new size 6, and size 6 is the new size 16.”

    I just Googled:

    > relationship between beauty and income

    and got:

    > About 6,470,000 results (0.23 seconds)

    The very first hit was:

    There is a negative correlation between body weight and income…

    Strangely enough,


    asserts that the correlation between attractiveness and income is three time higher for MEN than for women.

    In partial response to “Affiliated Physicians” and “Sharp66″, a number of my Google hits noted that the “beauty” (for which, again, “thin” is “necessary”, though not “sufficient”) effect on earnings is evident very young–*far* before the fat and ugly would have the opportunity to incur significantly more health care expenses than the thin and beautiful.

    Anyone upset about the facts I present above will be *really* upset about the reality of the marriage market. Statistically, the modal path to affluence for at least *women* would have to be through the marriage market, since all (or close enough) affluent males are married and their spouse inherits their lifestyle). There cannot be any single female career path that leads to affluence anywhere close to “full-time homemaker” for an affluent man. This may be part of the reason that appearance has a more pronounced effect on male earnings than on female earnings–the very best-looking ladies marry out of the job market, something I don’t *think* we males can accomplish. I am not sure, because I never had the looks to even think about such a “career path”, but I am familiar with the female version of the phenomenon because I am married to a woman who married well.

    The general positive effect does not just obtain for adults, by the way. By the time my son was 6 months old, he was “Beyond Gerber” good-looking, and I discovered that being out in public was like being in the entourage of a rock star. Strangers would cross the street just to accost me/us to remark on “Himself’s” appearance. It was then that I realized the answer to the age-old question:

    Q: Why is beauty only skin-deep?

    A: Because beauty just does not *need* to be any deeper than that!

  5. Tomas says:

    ‘Are obese people being paid less because they perform less well or because they are being discriminated against, whether consciously or unconsciously?’

    I wonder if this might also be the other way round – could it be that obese people are paid less not because of their obesity per se, but becase (on average, of course) obesity could be an negatively correlated with social status and wealth as such?

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