Scientists from the University of Exeter have uncovered the most conclusive evidence yet that being a shorter man or an overweight woman can result in a lower quality of life, including lower income.

The correlation between height, weight and well-being has become common knowledge, with previous studies showing that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are likely to be shorter and more overweight, partly due to a lower level of education and nutrition in childhood, and into early adulthood.

But new research into genetics led by the University of Exeter, published in the British Medical Journal, has shown that shorter height in men and a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in women can result in fewer positive life opportunities.

Dr Jessica Tyrrell, lead author of the study, said: “The genetic analysis we used is the best possible method to test this link outside of randomly altering people’s height and weight for a study, which is obviously impossible. Because we used genetics and 120,000 people, this is the strongest evidence to date that there’s something about being shorter as a man and having a higher BMI as a woman that leads to being less well-off financially.”

Scientists collected genetic data from 120,000 UK participants aged between 40 and 70, then analysed 400 genetic variants they know to be linked to height, and 70 variants they know to be linked to BMI. These variants were then used together with the participant’s actual height and weight, to ask whether or not shorter stature or higher BMI could lead to lower chances in life – as measured by information provided by participants.

Researchers found that if a man was 3” (7.5cm) shorter due to his genetic make-up, he would bring home £1,500 a year less than his taller counterpart. On the other hand, if a woman was a stone heavier (6.3kg) for reasons that are purely genetic, her annual income would be £1,500 less than a woman of the same height who is a stone lighter.

“Although we knew there was a strong association, most people assumed that shorter height and higher BMI were a consequence of poorer nutrition and chances in life,” said Professor Tim Frayling of the University’s Medical School, and contributor to the study.

“Now we have shown that there is an effect in the other direction as well – shorter height and higher BMI can actually lead to lower income and other lifestyle measures…Is this down to factors such as low self-esteem or depression, or is it more to do with discrimination? In a world where we are obsessed with body image, are employers biased? That would be bad for both the individuals involved and for society,” Frayling concludes.

Image via BMJ/Youtube.

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