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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods and Procedures
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. DISCLOSURE
  8. References

According to current estimates, 68% of the population in United States is considered either overweight or obese. Despite its relative frequency, prejudice and discrimination against overweight and obese Americans is a common occurrence. This study seeks to build on previous findings that overweight individuals are more likely than their skinnier peers to rely on themselves, rather than family, to fund their education. We examined whether this trend continued in car-buying practices. Results suggest that overweight and obese individuals differentially rely on their own sources of income to finance a car, even after controlling for socioeconomic differences. Possible explanations and implications are discussed.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods and Procedures
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. DISCLOSURE
  8. References

According to current estimates, rates of obesity in the United States are roughly 33%. On combining that with those that are overweight, the number jumps to 68% (1). Despite the relative frequency, stereotypes run rampant about these types of individuals. Common stereotypes include that overweight and obese individuals are lazy, lack self-control, and are less agreeable. These stereotypes paint individuals in a negative light, and are common in society even though research has clearly shown them to be untrue (2). Perhaps because of these stereotypes, obese and overweight individuals are discriminated against in various ways. Discrimination has been documented in the workplace, in interpersonal settings, health-care settings, and even in the media (3,4).

Discrimination occurs in various facets of the work environment. For example, individuals are discriminated against during the selection process (5,6). If these individuals manage to overcome the increased difficulty of finding employment, they are often paid less than their skinnier cohorts (7,8,9). Another study suggests that the overweight individuals are more downwardly mobile than their parents (10).

As discrimination persists throughout an individual's lifetime, there are lasting emotional and psychological consequences (11). The individual may begin to internalize these values, resulting in increased levels of psychopathology (12,13). For instance, overweight individuals are at an increased risk for depression (14,15,16), low self esteem (17,18), and body dissatisfaction (19,20,21). This discrimination persists even after controlling for variables such as age, obesity, gender, onset, and BMI (22,23). These results suggest that, rather than being a result of the obesity itself, these negative psychological consequences are a result of weight stigmatization (24).

Discrimination against the overweight comes from a variety of sources. These individuals may have more difficulty finding dates, suggesting interpersonal discrimination (25). Discrimination appears across different groups, including race (26), medical professionals (27), and even other overweight and obese individuals (28,26). In fact, health-care settings have been shown to be a significant source of weight prejudice and discrimination (29), suggesting serious implications for these individual's physical health. Overweight individuals are less likely to undergo routine preventative cancer screening (30,31) due to fear of being discriminated against. This is especially unfortunate because this group is at a greater risk of developing these cancers (32). Further, there is considerable negative stigmatization of overweight people in both television and in movies (33). This discrimination is not a phenomenon unique to the United States (5).

Surprisingly, it appears that one source of discrimination may be the individual's family. A series of studies by Crandall (34,35) examined whether an adolescent's weight would influence whether their families would help pay for their college education. Researchers asked information to obtain the BMI of each participant and gathered information to assess how the students were paying for school, either through family or nonfamily support. Nonfamily support included income from scholarships, grants, or employment. Family support included money held in trusts and money provided by anyone in the family. Results indicated that, although most students indicated a wide degree of family support in paying for college, there were differential effects for overweight and obese individuals. A much larger proportion of overweight and obese individuals relied solely on scholarships, financial aid, and other nonfamily support. In subsequent studies, researchers assessed various possible explanations for these differential effects. Researchers gathered information about parental income and education levels, race, family size, and number of children currently in college. A series of analyses revealed that the effects could not be accounted for by these variables, suggesting possible unintentional discrimination on behalf of the family.

This study sought to expand on the studies of Crandall (34,35) and test whether this discrimination extends to car-buying behaviors. Similar to college tuition, purchasing a car during the college years is a major expense and investment that parents can choose to provide assistance with or not. The study examined how students funded their current car and assessed current BMI by asking about weight and height. Finally, risk-taking behavior and risky driving behavior, including drinking and driving, were examined as possible confounding factors. Some previous research has found gender differences (ref. 34, Study 3), so we also tested for the presence of these differences. We hypothesize that heavier individuals will rely on personal support to finance a car, whereas skinnier individuals will tend to receive help from their families for this large purchase.

Methods and Procedures

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods and Procedures
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. DISCLOSURE
  8. References

Participants

Participants consisted of 785 students at the University of North Texas, who participated for partial course credit in a psychology class. Of the 785 participants, 399 (31% male) completed all measures included in this study. Because of the fact that BMI increases as individuals get older (36) as well as the fact that individuals are more likely to pay for their own cars as they get older, a one and a half standard deviation cut was made. Thus, all individuals above age 26 years were excluded from further analysis. This cut resulted in 379 (30% male) total participants with a mean age of 19.77 (s.d. = 1.78) and a range of 17–26.

Materials

The Sensation Seeking Scale-V. The Sensation Seeking Scale-V (37) is a 40-item self-report, forced choice questionnaire designed to measure individual differences in stimulation and arousal needs. Items break down into four subscales, including Thrill and Adventure Seeking, which includes items expressing a desire to engage in sports or other activities that involve speed or danger; Disinhibition, which includes items that show a desire for social and sexual disinhibition as expressed in drinking, partying, and variety in sexual partners; Boredom Susceptibility, which represents an aversion to repetition, routine, and dull people; and Experience Seeking, which represents the seeking of experiences through the mind and senses, travel, and a nonconforming lifestyle (38). Reliability and validity have been well established (see ref. 37 for review). Other authors have found internal consistencies ranging from 0.75 to 0.80 on the four subscales of the measure and have established convergent validity with the ZKPQ Impulsive Sensation Seeking subscale (see ref. 39). In the current sample, internal consistencies range from 0.55 to 0.79.

The Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11. The Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11 (40) is a 30-item self-report questionnaire designed to assess the personality trait of impulsiveness. Items as a whole can be reported to indicate a total measure of impulsiveness. All items together have shown good Cronbach's α values (α = 0.83). Six first-order subscales emerge from individual items, which include Attention (inability to concentrate), Motor, Self-Control, Cognitive Complexity, Perseverance, and Cognitive Instability. The items collapse into six first-order subscales with α ranging from 0.27 to 0.72. In the current sample, internal consistencies on the first-order subscales range from 0.25 to 0.71. Three second-order factors emerge, which include Attentional, Motor, and Nonplanning, The α values for these subscales range from 0.59 to 0.74. In the current sample, α were between 0.63 and 0.71. Convergent and divergent validity, with test-retest reliability, have also been demonstrated (41).

BMI. This was computed from self-reported height and weight using the following formula: (weight in pounds times 703) divided by height in inches squared. BMI has been shown to accurately describe levels of body fat (42) and serves as an adequate measure of physical health (43).

Reckless Driving Scale. The Reckless Driving Scale (44) is a ten-item self-report questionnaire that asks how likely, on a scale from 0 (0% chance) to 10 (100% chance) the individual is to engage in the risky driving behavior described. The items are summed to yield a total risky behavior score, with higher scores indicating a higher tendency to engage in reckless driving. Cronbach's α for the ten items has been reported to be around 0.80; in the current sample α = 0.73.

Drinking and Driving Scale. Questions for this scale are largely modeled after Snortum and Berger (45). Scores are summed to yield an overall measure of how likely an individual is to drink and drive. In the current sample, internal consistency (α) was 0.56.

Procedure

As part of a mass testing session, participants completed a packet of questionnaires that took roughly 1 h to complete. Participants first completed the Sensation Seeking Scale, Barratt Impulsivity Scale, Reckless Driving Stories, and the Drinking and Driving Scale. Participants indicated if they drove a vehicle, and how they financed the purchase. Choices included that they paid for it themselves, their family paid for it, they partially paid for it, or “other.” For simplicity, this variable is considered only in terms of whether the individual paid for the car or if the individual's family paid for the car. Individuals also answered questions about their family income. Responses ranged from 1 to 6, with 1 representing income <$10,000 per year, 2 represented $10,000–29,999 per year, 3 represented $30,000–49,999 per year, 4 represented $50,000–74,999 per year, 5 represented $75,000–99,999 per year, and 6 represented ≥$100,000 per year. Finally, participants completed items on demographics and body weight and height.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods and Procedures
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. DISCLOSURE
  8. References

Similar to Crandall's (34,35) findings, the majority of students relied on family support to finance their large purchase (77%). To test the hypothesis that heavier individuals will be more likely to rely on personal support to finance a car, we conducted a t-test comparing individuals by source of financing on BMI. The results indicated that individuals who financed their cars by themselves (m = 25.01, s.d. = 4.80) were heavier than those individuals who received monetary support from their family (m = 23.27, s.d. = 4.81), t(377) = 2.91, P = 0.004, Cohen's d = 0.36. Table 1 provides a summary of individual's weight by source of financing.

Table 1.  Weight category by source of financing for a car purchase
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Because research on BMI and paying for college tuition sometimes yields a gender interaction (34), we next conducted a 2 (paid for car by themselves vs. family paid) × 2 (gender) ANOVA on BMI score. There was no main effect of gender, F(3,375) = 1.18, P = 0.279. There was also no significant interaction between family support and gender, F(3,375) = 0.55, P = 0.45. Although previous research yielded differential effects by gender, no such gender interaction was found in the current sample.

Traditionally, individuals who are overweight have been overrepresented in lower socioeconomic levels (46). This has clear implications for our research question, as individuals with low income would have a more difficult time paying for a car than would those from the upper class. To test this explanation, a logistic regression was run with BMI and income predicting those students who funded their car purchase themselves. The overall model was significant, χ2(2, N = 379) = 14.31, P < 0.001. Odds ratio point estimates for income = 0.81, P = 0.01, 95% confidence interval 0.69–0.95. Odds ratio point estimates for BMI = 1.064, P = 0.01, 95% confidence interval 1.01–1.12. The partial correlation between source of financing and BMI with income partialed out was r(376) = −0.13, P = 0.009. Because of the way our variables were coded, this correlation suggests as BMI increases, individuals were more likely to finance the purchase of a car by themselves.

Another possible explanation is that these individuals are riskier than their skinny counterparts. Perhaps, there is something about their behavior that causes families to be weary of such a large investment. To test this explanation, we conducted correlation analyses between BMI scores and the two measures of personality traits related to personal risk taking, the Sensation Seeking Scale and the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale. Two measures of behavioral risk taking, the Reckless Driving Scale and the Drinking and Driving Scale, were also run in the analysis. Including the subscales of each of these four measures, a total of 12 correlations were conducted with BMI scores. At α = 0.05 level, two correlations were significant two subscales from the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale: Motor and Motor Impulsivity. However, none of these correlations meet the significance criterion once a Bonferonni correction is made (α = 0.05/12 = 0.004). Thus the observed relationship between BMI and source of finance could not be accounted for by risk-taking behaviors. Table 2 provides a summary of all t-tests conducted.

Table 2.  Differences in measures as a function of source of car financing
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Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods and Procedures
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. DISCLOSURE
  8. References

Even though the groups of interest in this study had dissimilar socioeconomic statuses (i.e., ability to pay), the rates at which families helped their adolescent's pay for their car differed depending on the child's weight, even after controlling for this income discrepancy. This result was present regardless of the individual's gender. The possibility that these students were riskier was examined, but no group differences were found. Although sometimes gender differences are found in the literature (47) and sometimes not found (48), no gender interactions were present in the current sample. Overall, this study suggests a continuation of the trend found by Crandall (34,35) that overweight students must rely more on their own sources of income to finance college-related expenses than do their skinnier counterparts.

A full 68% of the US population is either overweight or obese (1). As noted before, these individuals face prejudice and discrimination in everyday life. In fact, the rates of weight discrimination are comparable to those of racial discrimination in the United States (49). This can have negative effects not only on physical functioning (32,50), but also on psychological functioning (11,18,22). These physical and psychological consequences of the stigmatization of obesity illustrate that it is increasingly important to recognize and be aware of the various ways that subtle behaviors, such as buying a car for a child, may be serving to discriminate against an overweight individual. These consequences call to attention the need to be aware of interactions not only with others in society, but also within our own families. As stated above, when individuals experience discrimination it can lead to a myriad of negative outcomes. The lack of help from an individual's family to finance college expenses, such as tuition and a car, may contribute to individuals being more downwardly mobile and being at risk for psychopathology.

The results of this study show that heavier students must rely on their own funds to make large purchases, whether it is paying for college (34) or buying a car. Several alternative explanations arise, such as one originally proposed by Crandall (34). There is a possibility that those individuals who financed the large purchase themselves gained weight because they spent more time working. A consequence of this is that they had less time for sports and similar activities that would cause a lowering of BMI. Additionally, parental and family attitudes toward their children were not assessed. It could be that what we have captured is not a result of attitudes and resulting discrimination, but one of any number of confounds that simply have not been addressed. These are areas that should be pursued in future research in order to further solidify and investigate these findings.

Despite these drawbacks, it is important to note the negative effects that stigmatization can have on an obese person. As stated before, exposure to stigmatization and stereotypes results in a myriad of physical and psychological problems. These physical and psychological consequences persist over time and often get progressively worse, further illustrating the importance of this phenomenon. As the rates of obesity continue to trend upward in the United States, it is increasingly important to recognize and be aware of the various ways that subtle behaviors, such as buying a car for a child, may be serving to discriminate against an overweight individual. The lack of help from an individual's family to finance college expenses, such as tuition and a car, may contribute to individuals being more downwardly mobile and being at risk for psychopathology. The current results suggest that trying to fund a car purchase is yet another potential source of discrimination these individuals will likely encounter in their lives.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods and Procedures
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. DISCLOSURE
  8. References