Is There A Link Between Corruption and Obesity?

A recent study found that the Chinese government’s anti-corruption campaign is working like Ozempic on its bureaucrats.

The baseline was a 2009 research that revealed that over 40% of Chinese public sector officials were overweight, with senior officials facing more severe health outcomes. Suggesting that the prevalent culture of lavish banquets and alcohol consumption, particularly baijiu, contributed to their health condition.

Then came the Xi Jinping-led anti-corruption campaign in late 2012, which introduced the side effect of noticeable improvement in the health of the officials. The study suggests that officials were almost 12% less likely to be overweight after several years of the campaign.

The weight loss was attributed not only to the decrease of direct income from corruption but also to a decrease in wining and dining — there are also indications that the time saved from not being wined and dined gave them more time to exercise.

“We find that the anti-corruption campaign significantly decreased the BMI and overweight rates of Public Sector Employees (PSEs),” the researchers wrote. “Heterogeneity analysis reveals that the effect is more pronounced among the PSEs who are more exposed to corruption ex ante. Further analyses demonstrate that the mechanisms underlying the BMI reduction effect include decreased frequency of alcohol consumption and eating out as well as increased time spent on exercise among PSEs post-campaign.”

Interestingly, the link between obesity and corruption has been explored before, as X user Crémieux notes. Pavlo Blavatskyy of Montpellier Business School in France found that a government’s level of corruption can be directly related to the body mass index (BMI) of its ministers. 

The 2020 study, which analyzed ministers from 15 post-Soviet states, revealed that countries with slimmer cabinets tended to be less corrupt. Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Georgia, boasting the least corrupt cabinets, also had the slimmest ministers. Conversely, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, ranked highest for corruption, had ministers with higher estimated BMIs. 

“The median estimated body‐mass index of cabinet ministers is highly correlated with conventional measures of corruption,” Blavatskyy wrote. “This result suggests that physical characteristics of politicians such as their body‐mass index can be used as proxy variables for political corruption when the latter are not available, for instance at a very local level.”

While this correlation doesn’t necessarily mean that an obese public official is corrupt (or that a physically fit one isn’t), it scientifically proves something people have long suspected. 

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