Source: University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study

Middle-aged women who are obese may be burdened with more than extra pounds. According to findings presented on Sunday in Washington, D.C. at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, the economic cost of obesity is high: obese women have significantly lower net worths than their non-obese peers. The new study is one of the first to focus on the effects of obesity on mature people, rather than young adults.

Social scientist Nancy H. Fultz of the University of Michigan and her colleagues analyzed data from upwards of 7,000 men and women in their 50s and 60s. Whereas the effects of obesity were statistically insignificant for men, the economic effects for women considerable (see chart at right). The data showed that in 1992 a moderately to severely obese woman between the ages of 51 and 61 had a net worth that was 40 percent less than that of a non-obese woman. By 1998 the divide had expanded. That data showed that the net worth of an obese woman between the ages of 57 and 67 was 60 percent less than that of her slimmer peers. These differences persisted even after controlling for health, marital status and other demographic factors. "That an effect of obesity on net worth remains even when we consider these other factors is consistent with the notion that obesity is economically burdensome for women," the researchers conclude. "This may be due to cultural norms of attractiveness, which stigmatize obese women in a variety of ways."