UT professor finds correlation between obesity and poverty

Sebastian Vega

A UT assistant professor led a study that found a correlation between socioeconomic disadvantage and body mass.

Tetyana Pudrovska, head author of the study and sociology assistant professor, said the study proves that obesity does not only affect health, but social life and future earnings as well.

“You’re already disadvantaged when you’re born to poor parents. You have no control over your obesity,” Pudrovska said. “Your parents’ socioeconomic status already affects your risk of obesity and then [when] you’re obese in adolescence … you grow up and achieve less education and secure fewer socioeconomic resources because your obesity is also a disadvantaged social status, and it interferes with what you can achieve socioeconomically.”  

Pudrovska pointed out that the study does not focus on that lower-income families are more prone to being obese, but that obese people generally earn less income. 

“We started early in [the participants’] life and looked at the reciprocal relationship, by directional relationship, between poverty and obesity,” Pudrovska said. “It’s not that poverty increases your risk of obesity, but [for those] people who are obese in early life, their obesity also adversely affects their socioeconomic achievements.” 

According to the study, women are more prone to having their careers hindered by obesity. 

“This reciprocal chain was especially strong for women, and less so for men — especially the effect of obesity as a deterrent for socioeconomic achievement,” Pudrovska said. 

Along with her co-authors, Eric Reither of Utah State University and Ellis Logan and Kyler Sherman-Wilkins of Pennsylvania State University, Pudrovska was able to evidence this by analyzing data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. The study tracked the body mass and economic status of over 10,000 men and women for 36 years after their high school graduation.

Reither developed a measure that would depict the extent of students’ obesity by evaluating over 7,000 high school yearbooks with a system of coding. 

Sherman-Wilkins said people should reinforce positive values early on to try and avoid the correlation between obesity and socioeconomic disadvantage. 

“It’s very cliché, but knowledge is power,” Sherman-Wilkins said. “Part of the challenge when crafting policies that address social issues is that people tend to not really understand what kind of mechanisms underlie those social issues. Early life matters, so interventions should be tailored to early life.”