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Why Do The Obese Earn Lower Salaries?

You may recall a recent study I posted about the devastating effect the obesity epidemic has had on this nation's economy, to the tune of $11 billion just five years ago. In fact, the morbidly obese spent a remarkable 81 percent more in health care costs than those who maintained a normal weight.

If you're obese, the dent you feel in the pocketbook is certainly real, but not for the reason you may suspect. Many blame the wage gap on a not-so-subtle prejudice based on appearance, but that may not be true all the time. A new study by health economists at Stanford University found obese workers are paid less, but only when they have access to employer-sponsored health insurance.

Recognizing health insurance costs more for obese workers, employers compensate by paying them a lower salary. In fact, obese insured workers earned significantly less -- almost $3.50 per hour -- than non-obese insured workers in 1998. This gap starts out modestly when these workers are young, but widens over time, which also means the pay scale of the obese worker rises more slowly than that of the non-obese with employer-funded health insurance.

Even more telling, in a comparison of the hourly wages of obese and non-obese workers without on-the-job health insurance, researchers found no significant difference in pay.

Because your future health and wealth will likely depend on you -- certainly not on Social Security -- there's no better time than right now to make changes so you can afford to live longer comfortably and healthfully. To that end, I urge you to take advantage of the free resources available on my Web site to make these once wished-for changes a reality.

National Bureau of Economic Research May 2005

EurekAlert May 9, 2005

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