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The Heavy Non-Health Consequences of Heaviness

Summary:
Obesity has many other negative consequences in our culture beyond its negative health consequences. The introduction to Shoshana Grossbard and Sankar Mukhopadhyay's article flagged above lists many:Obesity is a major problem in the industrialized world, including the US. Its health and health cost consequences have been well documented, e.g., in Strum (2002) and Cawley and Meyerhoefer (2012). In addition, higher body weight may have negative social and economic consequences. Several studies (Register and

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The Heavy Non-Health Consequences of Heaviness
The Heavy Non-Health Consequences of Heaviness

Obesity has many other negative consequences in our culture beyond its negative health consequences. The introduction to Shoshana Grossbard and Sankar Mukhopadhyay's article flagged above lists many:

Obesity is a major problem in the industrialized world, including the US. Its health and health cost consequences have been well documented, e.g., in Strum (2002) and Cawley and Meyerhoefer (2012). In addition, higher body weight may have negative social and economic consequences. Several studies (Register and Williams 1990; Averett and Korenman 1996; Pagan and Davila 1997; Cawley 2004; Atella et al. 2008; Johar and Katayama 2012; Cawley and Meyerhoefer 2012; Sabia and Rees 2012; Larose et al. 2016 among others) have found an inverse relationship between women’s earnings and their body weight. There is a related but smaller literature that explores the effects of BMI on employment status. Lindeboom et al. (2010) do not find any significant effect of obesity on employment in the UK. Morris (2007) on the other hand finds that obese women are less likely to participate in the labor market in the UK. Two experimental studies, Rooth (2009) and Reichert (2015), find a negative effect of BMI on employment. Caliendo and Gehrsitz (2016) provide semiparametric estimates for the relationship between BMI and employment and find evidence of non-linearity.

Furthermore, body weight has negative consequences for a number of outcomes related to couple formation. It reduces (1) women’s dating and matching opportunities (Lemennicier 1988, Hitsch et al. 2010, Vaillant and Wolff 2011; Chiappori 1992), (2) their likelihood of cohabitation and marriage (Mukhopadhyay 2008) but not in a linear way (Malcolm and Kaya 2016), and (3) a wife’s relative influence on how the couple’s resources are internally distributed (Oreffice and Quintana-Domeque 2012). Singles with higher BMI may expect less from marriage. For instance, Vaillant and Wolff (2011) show that French obese women are less likely to expect men to be tall and charming and are more willing to accept a violent mate. Obese women are also less likely to be married to men with higher income and education (Oreffice and Quintana-Domeque 2010).

The research behind their article identifies another, as described in the abstract:

Is BMI related to hours of work through marriage market mechanisms? We empirically explore this issue using data from the NLSY79 and NLSY97 and a number of estimation strategies (including OLS, IV, and sibling FE). Our IV estimates (with same-sex sibling’s BMI as an instrument and a large set of controls including wage) suggest that a one-unit increase in BMI leads to an almost 2% increase in White married women’s hours of work. However, BMI is not associated with hours of work of married men. We also find that a one-unit increase in BMI leads to a 1.4% increase in White single women’s hours of work, suggesting that single women may expect future in-marriage transfers that vary by body weight. We show that the positive association between BMI and hours of work of White single women increases with self-assessed probability of future marriage and varies with expected cumulative spousal income. Comparisons between the association between BMI and hours of work for White and Black married women suggest a possible racial gap in intra-marriage transfers from husbands to wives.

Moreover, beyond all the negative consequences listed above, I am struck by what a great share of the consciousness of many people is filled by thoughts about their own unsuccessful weight-loss efforts. That is, these negative consequences of obesity and being overweight are on top of the costs people incur to try to weigh less. I emphasize the expenditure of consciousness itself, but of course there is a great deal of time and money spent in weight-loss efforts as well. It is a bit like crime: we suffer from crime and we are hurt by all of the costs we incur to try to reduce crime.  

Having emphasized all the costs on top of the health cost, how big is the health cost itself? Here is a way to get an idea of the right order of magnitude. A little googling turns up the 2013 PLOS One article "Life Years Lost Associated with Obesity-Related Diseases for U.S. Non-Smoking Adults" by Su-Hsin Chang , Lisa M. Pollack, Graham A. Colditz which cites these CDC figures in the introduction:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 112,000 deaths are associated with obesity each year in the United States [6][7].

When combined with a $9 million valuation of a statistical life, which is not an unreasonable number (see the Wikipedia article "Value of Life"), that comes to slightly over $1 trillion worth of obesity-related deaths each year

The total cost of obesity, including all of the above, motivates me to keep writing about how to fight it. Here are the main posts I have written so far on fighting obesity:

Also see the last section of "Five Books That Have Changed My Life."

Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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