Overweight Kids Face Salary Struggles Later On

Obese snowman, Vera

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at how large corporations and small companies try to keep their employees healthy. No doubt this effort is partly for altruistic reasons, but the economic reality is that insurance costs a lot, and the more the insurer has to pay out for health care, the higher the premiums become. Employers have gotten into the habit of passing along more of the cost to workers who are perceived as not taking good care of themselves.

That’s not the only way in which obese people are penalized in the workplace. It turns out, they suffer from lower salaries as well.

Obesity’s Cost—To One’s Salary

In Sweden, researchers from three universities undertook a large study of the earning potential male subjects in the military, whose results were reviewed next to comparable data sets from the United Kingdom and the United States and found to be similar. The researchers concluded that being obese is the practical equivalent, in salary terms, of not having an undergraduate degree.

It has been proven that overweight and obese people earn 16 percent less than their normal-weight counterparts. The study authors draw a parallel to the education penalty. If it takes three years of college to earn a BA, and each year of schooling translates into a 6 percent increase in income later on, the penalty in terms of real-life earnings would be 18 percent. In other words, both types of people—the obese and the ones without degrees—make significantly lower wages as adults.

The comparison may seem strained. But consider that the public has long been familiar with the idea that people with some high school education, or just a high school diploma, make less money than people with academic credentials. The same situation exists for overweight and obese people, but the situation is a newer discovery.

(In the Swedish study, all the subjects had enlisted in the army between 1984 and 1997. The follow-up information about long-term results was gathered in 2003, when they were between 28 and 39 years old.)

Only Early-Onset Obesity Lowers Salaries

Interestingly, the obesity penalty does not apply to men who gain weight later in life. Wage inequality is only suffered by those who were already overweight or obese in their teens. Apparently, some personality characteristics are aligned with either obesity or how a person develops in reaction to the societal attitude toward it.

The connection with personality was made by looking back at the tests administered at enlistment time, which provided psychologists with information “about the soldiers’ cognitive skills (such as memory, attention, logic and reasoning) and their non-cognitive skills (such as motivation, self-confidence, sociability and persistence).” For The Economist, another writer explained the “obesity penalty” like this:

They reckon that discrimination in the labour market is not that important. Neither is health. Instead they emphasize what psychologists call “noncognitive factors” – motivation, popularity and the like. Having well-developed noncognitive factors is associated with success in the labour market. The authors argue that obese children pick up fewer noncognitive skills—they are less likely, say, to be members of sports teams or they may face discrimination from teachers.

Paul Nystedt, one of the study authors, interprets this as an urgent need for government intervention in the lives of the young, because…

…children and adolescents are arguably less able to take future consequences of their actions into account. These results reinforce the importance of policy combating early-life obesity in order to reduce healthcare expenditures as well as poverty and inequalities later in life.

Exactly. The best way to eliminate these conflicts over income inequality, lifestyle penalties, privacy issues, and every other related problem, is to raise kids who are not obese as children, as teens, or adults.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “One big problem,” Economist.com, 10/07/14
Source: “Note to young men: fat doesn’t pay
Springer.com, 09/23/14
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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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