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Behavior, Psychology and Sociology

Subjective age and adiposity: evidence from five samples


Obesity is a significant public health issue with increasing prevalence among middle-aged and older adults. The present study tested whether subjective age, that is how old or young individuals perceive themselves to be, is related to both BMI and waist circumference in five samples of middle-aged and older adults (total N > 24,000; aged 34 to 105 years). Cross-sectional analyses that accounted for demographic variables revealed that an older subjective age was related to higher BMI and waist circumference in the five samples. Feeling older was related to a 10–20% higher likelihood of BMI ≥ 30 and a 11–25% higher likelihood of exceeding the obesity-related threshold for waist circumference. For most associations, age felt was more consistently and strongly related to adiposity than chronological age. The overall pattern was confirmed by a meta-analysis of the five samples. The present research adds subjective age to the list of factors related to obesity across adulthood.

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The Wisconsing Longitudinal Study (WLS) has been supported principally by the National Institute on Aging (AG-9775, AG-21079, AG-033285, and AG-041868), with additional support from the Vilas Estate Trust, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. WLS was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. WLS data are available at: The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIAU01AG009740) and conducted by the University of Michigan. HRS was approved by the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board. HRS data are available at: The Midlife in the United States study 2 (MIDUS 2) was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging (P01AG020166). Additional grants were obtained from grants from the General Clinical Research Centers Program (M01-RR023942, M01-RR00865) and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1TR000427). MIDUS was approved by the Education and Social/Behavioral Sciences and the Health Sciences Institutional Review Boards at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. MIDUS data are available at: NHATS is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (grant number NIA U01AG032947) through a cooperative agreement with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. NHATS was approved by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Institutional Review Board. NHATS data are available at: Participants provided informed consent in the five samples

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Correspondence to Yannick Stephan.

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Stephan, Y., Sutin, A.R. & Terracciano, A. Subjective age and adiposity: evidence from five samples. Int J Obes 43, 938–941 (2019).

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