Assessing the importance of relative body weight in shaping life satisfaction: Evidence from 1 million Americans

Abstract

Using data from the 2005–2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, this study shows that an individual’s ordinal body mass index (BMI) rank in a reference group is an important determinant of life satisfaction. This study finds that, adjusting for absolute BMI, individuals with high relative BMI are more likely to report low levels of life satisfaction. This relationship depends on group-specific social comparisons (i.e., within race/ethnic groups), especially for women. This study also shows that the link between relative BMI and life satisfaction is similar for both men and women, and persists into old age. Among women, the negative association between relative BMI and life satisfaction is driven largely by those residing in urban areas. No such patterns are found among men. To make further progress in understanding the relationship between BMI and psychological health and well-being, it is essential to consider how the meaning of an individual’s body weight might differ in reference to others’ body weight.

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Fig. 1

Data Availability

The datasets analyzed in this study are publicly available at the CDC’s website: http://www.cdc.gov/brfss/.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by Korea University (K2008821). I am grateful to Jason Fletcher for his helpful feedback and insightful comments.

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Correspondence to Jinho Kim.

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Kim, J. Assessing the importance of relative body weight in shaping life satisfaction: Evidence from 1 million Americans. Curr Psychol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-01360-z

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Keywords

  • BMI
  • Obesity
  • Life satisfaction
  • Gender