When the Rolling Stones sang about satisfaction, they should have consulted UWindsor social work professor Nazim Habibov.
Dr. Habibov, along with two students and an associate professor at Lakehead University, has published research that shows maintaining a healthy body mass index has a positive effect on life satisfaction.
Put simply, it’s hard to be fat and happy, or too skinny and happy, especially if you live in a country where you don’t trust your government or its institutions.
For the study, published in the International Journal of Health Planning and Management, Habibov, UWindsor undergrad Alena Auchynnikava, PhD candidate Rong Luo, and Lakehead professor Lida Fan used data from the 2016 Life-in-Transition Survey conducted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Approximately 1,500 people in 27 post-communist countries were surveyed.
Respondents’ weight and height was recorded as were their answers to the question: To what extent do you agree with the following statement? All things considered, I am satisfied with my life now.
“Healthy weight improves life satisfaction,” Habibov said the research shows. He said that’s a universal truth, regardless of where you live, but the correlation is “less strong” in economically and politically stable countries.
“The past decade has been characterized by a burgeoning interest in the concept of life satisfaction,” he said. With his interest in social policy, Habibov wanted to look beyond the “traditional measures of well-being” such as age, gender, wealth, health, employment, and marital status or the Gross Domestic Product and expenditures of the respondents’ home countries.
The study looked at countries as advanced as Poland and Hungary — members of the European Union — and as less developed as Mongolia.
Habibov said there is a rising prevalence of obesity in both developed and developing countries. Three main factors are behind this trend: falling prices for junk food compared to higher prices for fruits and vegetables, the rise of vacuum packaging allowing consumers to quickly prepare high-calorie and fat-dense foods, and technological changes that have replaced manual labour with sedentary work.
It has been well-established that unhealthy weight can create a wide range of physical issues as well as negative effects on self-esteem and social relationships, Habibov said. It also presents a barrier to employment as prospective employers — especially those in countries without universal health care — will discriminate against job seekers who are noticeably over- or under-weight.
Employers might think these workers would be off sick more, affecting health care costs and productivity, or turn off customers, Habibov explained.
He said there is one caveat, and that applies to countries with a history of famine, like Indonesia, or a trend of feasting like China. He said studies have shown that in these countries, a fat belly proclaims a fat wallet, so obesity becomes a signal of affluence and higher socio-economic standing.