Labor market engagement and the body mass index of working adults: evidence from India

Archana Dang, Pushkar Maitra, Nidhiya Menon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Galvanized by rapid income growth, labor market transitions in the nature of jobs, and lifestyle factors, there has been an increase in rates of obesity in many developing countries. This paper examines the relationship between BMI and sector and physical intensity of work among urban adults in India. We document that BMI is positively and significantly associated with labor market inactivity. Women in white-collar work have about 1.01 kg/m2 higher BMI than women in blue-collar work. For working men, the comparable estimate is approximately 1.18 kg/m2. We find that the increase in overall BMI originates from those who are already at high levels of BMI. Further, relative to the non-working sample, employment in a blue-collar occupation is associated with a BMI penalty for men and women. We find suggestive evidence that the increase in BMI for women is driven by a decline in energy expenditure, while both a decrease in energy expenditure and an increase in energy intake are important in explaining BMI dynamics for men. These results are robust to a variety of specification and methodological checks, and suggest that the increasing trend in BMI may be attributed to the transition towards a more sedentary occupational structure. Overall our research underlines the important role played by occupational engagement in determining the general health of populations in developing countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-77
Number of pages20
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • BMI
  • Gender
  • India
  • Labor market sector
  • Overweight or obese
  • Physical intensity

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