CitationKim, Jinho & Fletcher, Jason M. (2021). The effects of relative body weight on socioemotional and schooling outcomes among female adolescents in the United States. Social Science & Medicine. vol. 289
AbstractRationale An extensive literature has shown that individuals, especially women, with higher body mass index (BMI) face a range of negative life outcomes. Most previous studies rely on absolute measures of body weight, such as BMI and obesity status, to estimate the social impact of body weight. Using absolute measures of body weight, however, is inconsistent with social-psychological theories that explain the effects of body weight because they conflate the social effects of body weight with biological processes of body weight. Objective This study extends the literature by utilizing a relative measure of body weight, or a student's BMI rank within her relevant peer group, to examine the impact of body weight on youth outcomes. Methods Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and leveraging a quasi-experimental research design, this study examines the association between relative BMI and socioemotional and schooling outcomes among female adolescents in the United States. Results Results show that female students with high relative BMI are more likely to experience a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in depressive symptoms, even after adjusting for absolute BMI and weight perceptions. These effects are partially explained by lower levels of school attachment (∼26% for self-esteem and ∼15% for depressive symptoms). This study also finds that relative BMI is associated with an increased risk of high school dropout, but not college attainment and completed years of schooling. The association between relative BMI and high school dropout is partially explained by a combination of lowered self-esteem (∼7%), increased depressive symptoms (∼12%), as well as a decline in academic achievement (∼33%) and aspirations (∼12%). Conclusion We argue that to better understand how body weight affects one’ life outcomes, it is essential to take into consideration the social contexts in which one is embedded.
Reference TypeJournal Article
Journal TitleSocial Science & Medicine
Fletcher, Jason M.