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Being Fat Doesn't Pay Well for Men

Sep 24, 2014 05:35 PM EDT

Men who are already obese as teenagers could grow up to earn up to 18 percent less than their peers of normal weight, according to a new study.

A team of researchers looked at a group of 193 Swedish men in the military, aged 28 to 39 years old, and used tax records to find out their annual earnings. They also consulted certified psychologists to determine the soldiers' cognitive skills - such as memory, attention, logic and reasoning - and their non-cognitive skills, which include motivation and self-confidence, which can all affect their productivity.

Previous research has shown only that obese young women pay a price when they enter the labor market, but this new study is the first to show that the same goes for men as well - at least, men who were already overweight or obese as teenagers. The same correlation does not apply to those men who gain weight only later in life. But for obese teenage boys, they can grow up to earn 18 percent less in adulthood.

"To put this figure into perspective, the estimated return to an additional year of schooling in Sweden is about six percent. The obesity penalty thus corresponds to almost three years of schooling, which is equivalent to a university bachelor's degree," the authors explain in a statement.

Strikingly, the researchers noticed a similar pattern when comparing data of men from Sweden to those in the United States and United Kingdom.

The research team believes that being fat doesn't pay well for young men in part because obese adolescents often possess lower levels of cognitive and non-cognitive skills. This is possibly in line with evidence linking body size during childhood and adolescence with bullying, lower self-esteem and discrimination by peers and teachers.

"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," said researcher Paul Nystedt of Jönköping University.

The findings were published in the journal Demography.

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