Brain and Body

Being a Short Man or an Overweight Woman is Linked to Less Success in Life

March 10, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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This is the strongest evidence to date that height and BMI have an impact on life opportunities.

Science has some unfortunate news for any short men and overweight women out there — research shows that these factors are linked with lower chances in areas like education, careers, and income.

It’s known that a higher socioeconomic status is associated with better health and a longer life, and that being taller and thinner are linked with a higher socioeconomic status, the researchers say. However, these links aren’t fully understood, so the researchers decided to explore the genetic variants that influence height and body mass index (BMI) to better understand their impact on socioeconomic advantage.

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A team of researchers from the US and the UK, led by Professor Timothy Frayling at the University of Exeter, investigated whether genetic variants that influence height or BMI have a causal role in socioeconomic status.

Using data from the UK Biobank, a database of biological information on British adults, the researchers analyzed genetic variants with known effects on height and BMI from 119,000 individuals aged 40 to 70.

They assessed five measures of socioeconomic status — age at which an individual completed full time education, level of education, job class, annual household income, and Townsend deprivation index, which is a recognized social deprivation score. The analyses for men and women were separated.

The results, published in the British Medical Journal, reveal that shorter height (as estimated by genetics) leads to lower levels of education, lower job status, and less income, particularly in men. The scientists also concluded that higher BMI in women leads to lower income and greater deprivation.

"These data support evidence that height and BMI play an important partial role in determining several aspects of a person's socioeconomic status, especially women's BMI for income and deprivation and men's height for education, income, and job class," the researchers write.

They came up with a few possibilities to explain the link between taller stature and higher social position — it could have to do with the complex interactions between self-esteem, stigma, positive discrimination, and increased intelligence.

"These findings have important social and health implications, supporting evidence that overweight people, especially women, are at a disadvantage and that taller people, especially men, are at an advantage," they conclude.

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