On The Table

A collection of knowledge-based articles to inspire overall wellness.

Indirect Costs of Obesity

For a job that pays $40,000 annually, a woman who has an obese BMI of 30 would make approximately $3,600 less per year (or $36,400 annually) than a women who has a BMI of 25. The cost of obesity for women is astronomical.

Indirect Costs of Obesity

The cost of obesity doesn't stop at your health, but can drastically affect your salary and wages too. Recent studies have shown that obese individuals have lower wages and salary levels than non-obese individuals. Shockingly, researchers have been able to pin a number on this, and report that each 1-unit change in BMI (Body Mass Index) is associated with 1.8% direct wage penalty for women, though this was not true in men.

Obesity by the Numbers - Extra pounds come at a price.

What does that mean for salary and obesity? For a job that pays $40,000 annually, a woman who has an obese BMI of 30 would make approximately $3,600 less per year (or $36,400 annually) than a women who has a BMI of 25. The cost of obesity for women is astronomical. Researchers struggled to partly explain this by suggesting that some occupations have different requirements for social interaction with customers-or colleagues.

Even more disturbing, indirect penalties-for example, choosing whether or not to go to college-in late-teens who have higher BMIs resulted in an estimated 3.5% wage penalty in both men and women. This means that for two men who are the same age, height, and build-if one weighs 60 pounds more than the other throughout his lifetime; the heavier male could earn an estimated 30% less per year because of his decisions in adolescence. That's a striking 1/3 less than the salary of a normal weight male.

Crunching those numbers suggests that the cost of being overweight is significantly more than just health-related, and that obesity can absolutely affect their salary and wages too.

So does lower salary contribute to someone being more likely to be obese? Studies show this could be true.

Having reduced household income is absolutely associated with overweight and obesity. A 7-year study showed that women who were overweight in adolescence had a delay in marriage as well as a lower household income than women of normal weight. The same held true for men, with an average of almost $3,000 less per year reported in men who were overweight as adolescents in one survey.

While it may seem to be the case based upon the average salary, the cost of being overweight is much more than just wages. Your health suffers too. Additionally, it could affect your ability to obtain a job. It may sound like discrimination, but until states follow suit with Michigan-which has outlawed weight bias at work-obese individuals are somewhat powerless to combat the stigma when it comes to hiring.

According to a study published in the Journal of Obesity, there has been a 66% increase in weight bias in the United States over the past decade, which is a level high enough to be comparable to racial bias. When the nation was surveyed, 75% of people consistently favored laws prohibiting weight discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, this won't require the salary paid to obese individuals to increase.

Women seem to bear the most brunt of the salary and obesity burden, with obese women tending to work in lower-paying occupations, have lower hourly wages, and decreased probability of employment. One recent, unpublished study from Vanderbilt University suggested that women who are considered obese or morbidly obese who hold jobs that require hours of personal interaction with clients earn almost 5% less than an average weight woman with the same job.

Obesity doesn't just cost you more pay, but employers end up paying more as well.

With obesity as the first step on a journey toward disease, this one condition-and the obesity-related diseases it leads to-reduces life span and costs billions of dollars per year to treat.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, obese employees miss more days from work than non-obese employees. The reason? Short-term absences, long-term disability, and premature death. Yikes! Also, researchers have identified that obese individuals may also work at less than full capacity, a concept known as presenteeism. Unfortunately this stigma-even though it may be untrue-could haunt an interview, making an employer less likely to hire an obese individual.

The economic cost of obesity encompasses more than just work days missed, but also higher insurance costs, because employers must pay higher life insurance premiums, and sometimes more workers' compensation for employees who are obese comparted to employees who are not obese.

If getting your health back is not motivation enough to lose weight, then maybe the chance at making a fair salary will be.

Euna Han, Edward C. Norton , Lisa M. Powell. Direct and indirect effects of body weight on adult wages. Economics and Human Biology 9 (2011) 381-392.

Charles L Baum II and William F Ford. The wage effects of obesity: a longitudinal study. Health Economics. 2004;13(9)885-899.

Colditz GW, Wang, YC. Economic costs of obesity. In: Hu F, Obesity Epidemiology. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008.

Suh Y1, Puhl R, Liu S, Milici FF. Support for laws to prohibit weight discrimination in the United States: public attitudes from 2011 to 2013. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Aug;22(8):1872-9. doi: 10.1002/oby.20750. Epub 2014 Apr 8. PMID: 24715378