Don’t deny it: Humans crave status. We’re always itching to make more money, have greater influence, and better our ranking.
But there’s a price you pay for leveling up: Men who have friends in high places typically have larger waistlines, according to new research from Vanderbilt University.
Need an example? Think of the business titans and political leaders, both real and fictional, modern and historical. William Howard Taft, Winston Churchill, Henry VIII: Men in power usually had guts with impressive girth.
So in the study, published in the Journal of Sociological Perspectives, researchers sifted through data from the 2004 U.S. General Social Survey—which included body weight ratings (visually evaluated by interviewers), average education, and proportion of network members with some level of college education or more—to see how socioeconomic status, gender, and lifestyle influences body weight for men and women.
According to the study, women who have a more educated network of friends are more likely to describe themselves as athletic and having lower body weights, researchers found. Not so for men, who were more likely to be out of shape if they had a high-achieving friend group.
The researchers’ hypothesis: Old-school gender norms. “This seemingly surprising finding reflects the body weight norm of breadwinner masculinity,” lead study author Lijun Song said in a press release. Men are less concerned about sculpting or maintaining six-pack abs when they’re focusing on work. Their priorities are different, and they’re less inclined to be weight-conscious and diet.
Women who are overweight, on the other hand, have more at stake: “They suffer more in terms of educational attainment, they suffer more in terms of occupational status and income and they suffer more in terms of finding a partner in their life,” Song said. “If they’re surrounded by people of high socioeconomic status, they’re going to face and conform to the body weight norm of slender femininity even more.”
Of course, you could argue that anyone in the public eye often enough will become more aware of their body image and work to keep their weight in check. Plenty of celebrities have gotten in shape after they achieved some measure of stardom.
The bottom line: Surround yourself with people who value health and fitness. “You’re more likely to become more conscious of your body weight, more likely to receive assistance with weight management, and more likely to observe and imitate weight-control behaviors,” Song concluded.