The Ability of Various Measures of Fatness to Predict Application for Disability Insurance

This paper compares a variety of measures of fatness (e.g. BMI, waist circumference, waist-tohip ratio, percent body fat) in terms of their ability to predict application for Social Security Disability Insurance (DI). This is possible through a recent linkage of the National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III to Social Security Administration (SSA) administrative records.

Our results indicate that the measure of fatness that best predicts application for DI varies by race and gender. For white men, BMI consistently predicts future application for DI. For white women, almost all are consistently predictive. For black men, none predict application. For black women, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio are the only significant predictors of DI application. This variation across race and gender suggests that the inclusion of alternative measures of fatness in social science datasets should be considered, and that researchers examining the impact of fatness on social science outcomes should examine the robustness of their findings to alternative measures of fatness. . . .

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Richard Burkhauser is a visiting scholar at AEI. John Cawley is an associate professor at Cornell University. Maximilian Schmeiser is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconson-Madison.

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