Subjective Social Status, Life Course SES, and BMI in Young Adulthood

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Objective: Socioeconomic status (SES) is associated with many aspects of health and well-being, including body mass index (BMI). Most research in this area has focused on objective indicators of SES such as education and income, but recent work suggests that subjective social status (SSS) is also important. This study contributes to a growing body of research on SSS and BMI. Method: Data from Waves I and IV the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), a study of 14,780 individuals followed from adolescence to young adulthood, were analyzed. Results: Analyses showed that (a) SSS was inversely associated with BMI among young adults, (b) objective SES in both adulthood and early life explained about half of this relationship, (c) SSS appeared to offer a partial explanation for the association between SES (in both adulthood and early life) and BMI, (d) health behaviors, psychological characteristics, self-rated health, and perceived stress explained part of the relationship between SSS and BMI after controlling for SES and other covariates, and (e) SSS had a residual association with BMI that was not accounted for by any of the variables in the full model. Conclusions: This work shows that SSS is important because it (a) has an independent association with BMI net of SES, which suggests that it captures unique aspects of social and economic conditions missed by objective indicators of SES and (b) may help link SES with BMI through perceptions of one’s place in the status hierarchy of society.

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