• weight;
  • BMI;
  • employment;
  • disability;
  • labor supply


Objective: To determine the relationships between BMI and workforce participation and the presence of work limitations in a U.S. working-age population.

Research Methods and Procedures: We used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a nationwide prospective cohort, to estimate the effect of obesity in 1986 on employment and work limitations in 1999. Individuals were classified into the following weight categories: underweight (BMI < 18.5), normal weight (18.5 ≤ BMI < 25), overweight (25 ≤ BMI < 30), and obese (BMI ≥ 30). Using multivariable probit models, we estimated the relationships between obesity and both employment and work disability. All analyses were stratified by sex.

Results: After adjusting for baseline sociodemographic characteristics, smoking status, exercise, and self-reported health, obesity was associated with reduced employment at follow-up [men: marginal effect (ME) −4.8 percentage points (pp); p < 0.05; women: ME −5.8 pp; p < 0.10]. Among employed women, being either overweight or obese was associated with an increase in self-reported work limitations when compared with normal-weight individuals (overweight: ME +3.9 pp; p < 0.01; obese: ME +12.6 pp; p < 0.01). Among men, the relationship between obesity and work limitations was not statistically significant.

Discussion: Obesity appears to result in future productivity losses through reduced workforce participation and increased work limitations. These findings have important implications in the U.S., which is currently experiencing a rise in the prevalence of obesity.