Body Mass Index and Educational Inequality: An Update of Crandall (1995)

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Over 2 decades ago, social psychological research revealed that weight stigma may undermine educational achievement. This study documented that a greater proportion of college students were thin compared with the general population and that heavier females received less college financial support from parents than thinner females (Crandall, 1995). Although frequently cited, there is no current literature on these phenomena despite major changes since the 1990s including a much higher prevalence of obesity and the economic downturn known as the “Great Recession.” Thus, in the interest of pursuing replicable science, the present study examined the role of weight stigma in higher education in 2 studies using ethnically diverse samples of first-year college students. We found that the average Body Mass Index (BMI) and BMI distribution in our samples were still significantly lower than a nationally representative sample, regardless of gender and ethnicity. We also found that, among females, self-funded students had higher BMIs than parent-funded students. In one sample, this was also the case for males. Together these findings suggest that not only are heavy young adults perhaps less likely to be in college than their thin counterparts, but they may also receive less support from their parents. This points to the possibility that weight stigma may undermine educational achievement in today’s youth, which could have negative downstream consequences for lifelong socioeconomic, health, and well-being outcomes.

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