Study: For Obese Women, Quality of Life Suffers More

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A lot of factors determine your health-related quality of life, including your weight. In general, the heavier you are — that is, the further you veer into overweight territory — the worse your quality of life. But a new survey finds that some groups, such as women, are more negatively affected than others.

For the survey, researchers asked 3,844 U.S. adults aged 35-89 a series of questionnaires designed to gauge the respondents’ physical and mental quality of life. The questions included measures of mobility, pain, cognition, “vitality,” anxiety and depression, among other factors.

(More on TIME.com: Obese Teens Are More Likely to Smoke, Have Riskier Sex)

Overall, the survey found, people with “normal” body mass index (ranging from 18.5 to 24.9) reported better health-related quality of life than overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9) or obese (BMI of 30 to 50) respondents. But when researchers looked more closely at African American participants, they found that those in the overweight group reported higher quality of life scores than their normal-weight and obese peers.

Why that’s so isn’t clear, but the researchers say the findings are in line with past studies that have found a smaller association between increasing BMI and mortality among blacks than among non-blacks. “The mechanisms by which overweight and obesity affect daily living and mortality may also differ between races,” the authors wrote. “Lifestyle, roles, bodily pain, or vitality may simply be less affected by overweight among blacks than they are among non-blacks.”

The questionnaires also suggested that obese women were more likely to suffer lower quality of life than obese men, especially when it came to measures of mental health. The authors wrote:

[A]lthough there has been some emerging evidence that obesity may be negatively associated with mental health among women in non-U.S. settings, our analysis is the first to indicate that such an inverse relationship may be significant among American women, while confirming evidence that among men, the association appears significant only with physical health.

That may be due in part to the fact that obese women tend to suffer more stigma and bias than equally portly men. A study last year that examined salary differences among obese Americans found that obese women tended to earn less than their normal-weight counterparts, while obese men didn’t suffer in pay for their size. (For both genders, however, the cost of obesity was high after factoring in increases in sick days and medical costs, premature death, higher grocery bills and even the cost of extra gasoline — the heavier your car load, the more gas you guzzle.)

(More on TIME.com: Want to Sharpen Your Mind? Drop a Few Pounds)

“Our study did not look at why extra weight seems to be less of a burden for blacks and more of a burden for women, but there are several possible explanations,” said David Feeny of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore., a co-author and investigator of the current study. “These are questions that should be addressed in future studies.”

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