Study Finds Economic Decisions Impacted by Body Weight

By Rick Naurert PhD
March 3rd, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
Study Finds Economic Decisions Impacted by Body Weight

German researchers have found that when slim men (in management roles) suffer bouts of low blood sugar, chances are that they will make unfair decisions involving the more rotund people they engage with in the workplace.

Dr. Achim Peters of the University of Lübeck in Germany and collaborators made the discovery while investigating economic decision-making in lean and corpulent men.

Researchers believe the findings add fuel to the growing consensus that men of normal weight struggle to make fair and objective decisions about people who tip the scales. The study appears in the International Journal of Obesity.

Researchers believe obese people often experience so-called weight prejudice because of their greater body mass. In the working world, this bias plays out in the fact that they are less likely to be hired, are more often unemployed and are sometimes even paid less for the same job than leaner employees.

Peters’ team asked 20 lean and 20 corpulent men to play a set of economic games that have previously been widely used to gain insights into the factors that influence the economic decisions that people make.

The three games were played with the participants being aware of the physical appearance of their opponents, and while their blood sugar levels were either normal or abnormally low.

One economic game tested fairness. In this game one player is asked to divide a fixed amount of money with someone else, while the other has the option of accepting or rejecting the offer.

Another game involved trust where cooperation and faith in another can lead to an increase in the monetary outcome for a player, but at the risk of losing an investment.

Finally, a risk game was carried out in which participants have to choose between safe and dicey prospects.

Researchers discovered that even when experiencing normal blood sugar levels, lean participants in the ultimatum game tended to make fewer fair proposals than the more corpulent ones. In the trust game, lean men who experienced low blood sugar levels placed more trust in others sporting the same physique as themselves.

The playing of these games showed how economic decision-making is affected by the body weight of both participants concerned.

It also highlighted that unfair decisions may occur when leaner decision-makers are experiencing low blood sugar levels and therefore have a short energy supply to the brain.

“Blood glucose concentrations should be taken into consideration when analyzing economic decision-making,” said  Peters.

“When relating these results to the working environment, the weight bias in economic decision-making may be relevant for employment disparities.”

“One might therefore speculate that a lean personnel manager could prefer a lean job applicant and could offer him a higher salary, but that an overweight personnel manager would not make a difference regarding body shape, in either hiring or salary decisions,” Peters said.

Source: Springer

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.