Short Men, Heavy Women at Lifelong Disadvantage?
Genetics of height and weight may shrink earnings, study contends, but other experts skeptical of the findings
By Steven Reinberg
TUESDAY, March 8, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- In terms of getting ahead in life, are small men and heavy women shortchanged?
Yes, claim British researchers who found vertically challenged men and curvy women were less likely to get a higher education, have a good job or make a lot of money.
"There is something about being fatter or being shorter in itself that leads to poor outcomes," said lead researcher Timothy Frayling, a professor of human genetics at the University of Exeter in England.
A man stunted by genetics is likely to earn $2,100 less annually than a man three inches taller, the researchers determined. In women, 14 extra pounds was linked to the same $2,100 loss in earnings each year.
Established social biases may be to blame, Frayling said. Falling short of cultural expectations may lead these individuals to poor self-image or depression, which could affect how well they do in life, Frayling said.
Or, they may be victims of employer discrimination in a body-conscious world, the study authors suggested. The actual connection isn't clear.
The study findings are based on genetics that influence height and weight, Frayling said. But genes aren't destiny, he acknowledged. "There are many overweight women and short men who do very well in life," he said.
Another expert seconded that thought.
"I don't want people to get [the message] that what they are born with is what they're stuck with," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"I wouldn't take this study too seriously, but understand that how you're perceived makes a difference," she said. How you look may trigger an unconscious bias in others, she explained.
For the study, the researchers used data from the U.K. Biobank to analyze genes known to affect height and weight of 120,000 adults aged 40 to 70. They also studied information that the study participants offered about their lives.
The researchers looked at five measures of socioeconomic status: completing full-time education, level of education, job class, annual household income and the Townsend deprivation index, which is a score of social hardship.