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Obesity in adolescence may have serious consequences for financial and social success in later life, especially for women, according to a study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study looked at a group of more than 10,000 subjects in 1981, when they were between the ages of 16 and 24, and then in 1988. Researchers from Harvard University and the New England Medical Center examined the relationship between weight and education, income, marital status, health, and self-esteem.

The data show that social and economic differences between the overweight and non-overweight are much more marked in women than in men. Overweight women--defined as those whose body-mass index (a ratio of weight to height) is in the top 5 percent of their age and sex--were 20 percent less likely to marry than their non-overweight peers. Overweight men were 11 percent less likely to marry.

Overweight women were found, on average, to have household incomes that were $6,710 less per year than women who were not overweight. They were also 10 percent more likely to have incomes below the poverty line than were thinner women. For men, the difference in income was less than $3,000 per year.

While many researchers have believed that the higher incidence of obesity among poor people is due to sociocultural factors, such as lack of good eating habits and regular exercise, the Journal study points to a different kind of relationship between obesity and financial status.

Adjusting for other possible factors, the authors of the study found that marriage rates and income were still significantly lower for those who had been overweight in 1981.

"Discrimination against people who are overweight may account for these results,'' the study suggests.

Citing the effect of obesity's stigma on socioeconomic and social status, the study recommends that the Americans with Disabilities Act be expanded to cover discrimination based on obesity.

Prenatal drug exposure has a direct effect on intelligence, according to a study in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Testing the cognitive skills of 3-year-olds, researchers from the National Association for Perinatal Addiction Research found that those whose mothers had used cocaine and other drugs while pregnant had I.Q. scores that were, on average, four to five points lower than those in a control group of non-exposed children.

The study also suggests, however, that other factors, such as head circumference, home environment, and behavioral characteristics, can also play a role in intelligence development.--S.S.

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