Back to school: delayed college education and trajectories of body mass

Richard Miech, University of Colorado at Denver
Michael J. Shanahan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Ross Macmillan, Università Bocconi
Jason D. Boardman, University of Colorado at Boulder

This study examines whether the attainment of a college degree after first labor force entry significantly improves health, as measured by the body mass index (BMI). The analysis uses the longitudinal, nationally-representative Add Health study and focuses on 12,540 respondents who were first interviewed in 1994-5 when they were in 7th-12th grade and last interviewed in 2007-2008. Acquisition of a college degree after first labor force entry significantly improved BMI trajectories, but only for women. Analysis of potential mechanisms linking college degree status and BMI did not support an expected role for personal control, and instead suggested the importance of other health behaviors. For women, these results suggest that a college education is one of few weight management plans that actually works, and suggests that the historical trend leading increasing numbers of workers to pursue a college in later life should have a positive impact on population BMI.

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Presented in Session 23: Obesity and health/mortality