The trifecta of weight, wealth, and health

The trifecta of weight, wealth, and health

3 minute read

People who see their finances improve, frequently lose weight, and quit smoking. Why?

A few years ago, a financial literacy program started in New Zealand, that helped people with gambling problems and a history of crime, sort out their finances. As the participants progressed in the program, the counselors noticed something: as they got their finances in order, a large share of participants started exercising, lost weight and frequently quit smoking. In short, as their financial problems were resolved, the participants took greater care of their health and became more fit. The program proved something we all know but can’t quite put our finger on: that wealthy people tend to be slim, fit and healthy.

Why poverty is bad news for health

Financial trouble worms its way into almost every part of your life. Researchers have pinpointed that poverty creates a “context of stress”, which means that it’s not just worrying about money: people with limited means have to deal with more conflict, move more often and may not know where their next meal comes from. This impacts health on so many levels.

For example, if you can only afford to live in an unsafe neighborhood, it can be hard to find a decent place to exercise. If do shift-based work, and only know your schedule a few days in advance, you can’t plan gym time. Also, for many people, stress leads to emotional eating. You may also be limited in your options for healthy food: it’s more expensive than junk food, and as Quartz reported, people on food stamps tend to purchase cheaper products in an attempt to stretch their budgets. In short, economic uncertainty makes it harder to plan for workouts and healthy meals.

Why better finances = improved health

Once you’ve reached a comfortable income however, you can afford the resources that protect and improve health long term - which is what the New Zealand financial literacy program noted. You’re likely to be in a more stable and flexible job with good benefits such as paid leave, health insurance and wellness programs. You’re less likely to work a hazardous job. You can spend your disposable income on proper medical care and a healthy lifestyle - benefits that also extend to your children. Being financially secure, can also lead you to make healthier choices, as healthy food is more expensive than junk food. You’ll have more time to exercise – or the financial resources to make it easy to do so. You’re also more likely to spend on education. This maximizes your family’s chances of continuing to live comfortably.

Why better health = more $$

The good news is that health and wealth are not a one-way street – it goes both ways. Being slim, fit and health also improves your finances. In fact, the most immediate things you can do to improve your health AND finances, are to quit smoking and ensure a healthy weight. Discarding cigarettes not only helps your finances short-term, you also significantly lower your risk of chronic illness and heart disease in the long term. Healthier lungs give you more energy and quitting smoking reduces stress, depression and anxiety.  

Weight loss, also, has an immediate financial effect, aside from lowering your risk of major disease. A recent study in the Journal of Economics and Human Biology proved that white women who dropped their BMI by 10 points, saw a wealth increase of $11,880. White men saw an increase of $12,720 for a similar drop, while black women increased wealth by $4,480 (there was no change for men of colour). Why? It’s likely that overweight and obese people tend to be discriminated against in the workforce.

The good news

There are many factors that affect our financial security and health: genes, jobs, parents, family, income, neighborhood, education – to name a few. Most of those are difficult (if not impossible) to change. The good news is that, whether you decide to focus on your mental, physical or financial health, all of your efforts are equally valuable. And fortunately, an improvement in one area, leads to improvement in another.