For richer, for poorer: the relationship between adolescent obesity and future household economic prosperity

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Adolescent obesity not only has serious long-term health implications, but also the potential to lead to a socioeconomic trajectory of lower earnings and household income. However, the magnitude and mechanisms of such outcomes across the life course are poorly understood. Using birth cohort data from the British National Child Development Study (1958 to 2008), we examined the relationship between adolescent obesity (at age 16) and future household income, employment, wages, marriage and spousal earnings when individuals were in their 30s, 40s and 50s. We additionally investigated the role of obesity persistence from childhood (age 11) through to adulthood (age 33). After adjusting for a rich set of childhood characteristics, compared to normal weight, obesity at age 16 was associated with significantly lower levels of future household income for women (by approximately 14%), but not men. This household income penalty was greater for women with obesity in both childhood and adulthood. The household income penalty for women appeared to be driven by a lower likelihood of marriage and lower spousal earnings for those who were married, and not by their own wage penalty in the labour market. The spousal earnings penalty occurred even when obesity did not persist into adulthood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-150
Number of pages9
JournalPreventive Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Adolescent
  • Childhood
  • Household income
  • Obesity
  • Socioeconomic status

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