Does reading keep you thin? Leisure activities, cultural tastes, and body weight in comparative perspective

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While sedentary leisure-time activities such as reading, going to movies, attending cultural events, going to sporting events, watching TV, listening to music, and socialising with friends would seem to contribute to excess weight, a perspective focusing on socioeconomic status (SES) differences in cultural tastes suggests the opposite, that some sedentary activities are associated with lower rather than higher body weight. This study aims to test theories of cultural distinction by examining relationships between leisure-time activities and body weight. Using 2007 data on 17 nations from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), the analysis estimates relationships between the body mass index and varied leisure-time activities while controlling for SES, physical activities, and sociodemographic variables. Net of controls for SES and physical activities, participation time in cultural activities is associated with lower rather than higher body weight, particularly in high-income nations. The results suggest that both cultural activities and body weight reflect forms of distinction that separate SES-based lifestyles.

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