Study finds disparities in the perception of obesity

Research links obesity with poor socio-economic outcomes such as lower wages, family income, marriage rates and spousal earnings.
By Amy Wallace  |  May 18, 2017 at 1:25 PM
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May 18 (UPI) -- A study by Cornell University has found factors such as gender, race and generation matter in judging whether someone is considered obese or not.

There are very specific medical definitions of being overweight or obese, but the perception of obesity can vary significantly in the real world.

"People are judged differently depending on who they are," Vida Maralani, an associate professor of sociology at Cornell University, said in a press release. "'Too fat' in the medical world is objective. You can measure it. But in the social world, it's not. It's subjective."

Previous studies have linked obesity with poor socio-economic outcomes like lower wages, family income, marriage rates and spousal earnings. For the Cornell study, researchers looked at those factors over time and across gender and race.

Researchers analyzed factors such as wages, family income and the probability of being married for each of four social groups including white men, black men, white women and black women in 6,000 people who were interviewed as teenagers in 1979 and more than 6,000 people who were teenagers or young adults in 1997. Both groups were then interviewed again seven years later.

For white women, researchers found the thinner the woman, the more likely they were to be married and have higher family income and wages.

"For African-Americans, the link between body mass and these outcomes dissipates by the late 1990s; people seem to have become more accepting of larger bodies," Maralani said.

For all four groups, the relationship between body mass index and the likelihood of being married weakened across generations.

The study also showed how much society expects white women to be thin.

"The patterns for all women in the 1979 cohort and white women in the 1997 cohort remind us that norms of thinness dominate in women's lives at work and at home," study authors stated.

The study was published in Sociological Science.

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