People with a high body mass index (BMI) often have a low income and live in areas with higher regional deprivation*. Researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum München and the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD) have shown in a study that there is a causal relationship between high BMI and low socioeconomic status. The study was published in Diabetes Care and was conducted in cooperation with researchers from LMU (Munich School of Management and Munich Center of Health Sciences) and TUM (Public Health and Prevention).
Previous evidence indicates that people with severe overweight and type 2 diabetes (T2D) also have poorer labor market prospects and a lower income. In the present study, researchers have now investigated the causal effect of a high BMI and T2D on socioeconomic status using a special study design (Mendelian randomization). The genetic influence – that is, independent of environmental influences – of BMI and diabetes were taken into account.
People with a higher BMI were found to be more likely to have low incomes and to live in areas of higher deprivation. Reasons for this may include lower ability to work, higher absenteeism, higher likelihood of musculoskeletal disorders or higher social discrimination. These factors may in turn lead to poorer career prospects, decreasing labor market participation and lower income, the authors conclude. Lower income could in turn lead to people moving to disadvantaged areas with more affordable housing and food options.
However, the studies did not show any negative influence of type 2 diabetes on socioeconomic status. The authors encourage further research to investigate in more detail the effects of T2D on socio-economic status using new genome-wide association studies. In addition, the mechanisms that lead to a disadvantage for people with an increased BMI should be further investigated.
Sara Pedron et al: The Effect of BMI and Type 2 Diabetes on Socioeconomic Status: A Two-Sample Multivariable Mendelian Randomization Study. Diabetes Care 2021 Mar; 44(3): 850-852. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2337/dc20-1721
* Regional deprivation
Regional deprivation is a measure of social inequality and describes material differences between regions or areas based on variables such as the unemployment rate, ownership of a house or car, and living space per household member.