Increases in minimum wage may not have anticipated positive health effects, study shows

February 10, 2020

In the decade-long absence of federal action, many states, counties and cities have increased minimum wages to help improve the lives of workers. While political debate over these efforts has long been contentious, scientific research on the health effects of raising the minimum wage is relatively new.

Some studies have found higher minimum wages associated with positive health outcomes, with little evidence that minimum wages harm health. However, a new study by researchers at the University of Washington found that increases in minimum wages primarily had no effect on health overall. However, they did find a mix of negative and positive effects associated with the health of certain groups of working-age people.

The UW study, published Feb. 10 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, looked at more than 131,000 adults who provided information to the federal National Health Interview Survey between 2008 and 2015. The subjects were 25 to 64 years old and were either employed or unemployed but looking for work.

"We found that an increase in minimum wage really didn't have a huge impact on health overall, which surprised us," said lead author James Buszkiewicz, a doctoral student in epidemiology in the UW School of Public Health. "We did see, when we looked at subgroups, some mixed health effects there, however."

For example, the researchers found that a wage increase was associated with an increased likelihood of obesity and elevated body mass index in working-age people of color. They also found that higher minimum wages were associated with a lower likelihood of hypertension among working-age men but higher likelihood of hypertension in working-age women.

"These mixed results shine a spotlight on segments of the population that need to be studied in relation to rising minimum wages in order to learn how best to achieve the goal of reducing inequality with adjustments to the minimum wage," said co-author Heather Hill, an associate professor in the UW Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

The researchers looked at several health outcomes: obesity, body mass index, hypertension, diabetes, fair or poor general health and serious psychological distress. And, to make sure they were seeing results tied to minimum wages and not other factors, they compared the health outcomes of working-age people with less formal education -- who are most likely to receive the minimum wage ¬¬-- to health outcomes of those with more formal education. If a health outcome appeared in both groups, the researchers could assume that it wasn't caused by changes to the minimum wage.

According to the researchers, these types of analyses and comparisons set their study apart from previous research on this topic. This gives the team confidence in its main finding -- no overall effect on the health of working-age people -- even though that result contradicts previously published studies. In addition, the UW study provides detailed data on the effects of minimum wage increases on subgroups of workers based on gender, race and age.

The team points out in the study that an association between higher minimum wage and higher rates of obesity for a specific subgroup of working-age people may reflect differences in how minimum-wage policies affect certain demographics of workers, especially those more likely to have low- or minimum-wage jobs.

The researchers did not explore in this study the obesity or hypertension differences they uncovered, but believe that these results point to potential consequences of minimum-wage policy that should be the focus of future research.

"When we are looking at a minimum-wage policy, or any policy for that matter, we should be looking at the effect overall, but we should also consider how it is affecting different groups. And, if there is evidence that minimum wage or any policy is affecting groups differently, that's something to hone in on for further investigation," said Buszkiewicz, who is expanding his research into the minimum wage to include its effects over time and by gender and race.

The authors also point out that this research could help inform policymakers when it comes to establishing wage policy.

"Cities and counties are increasing minimum wages with very good intentions, which is to benefit lower-earning workers and reduce inequality, and yet we still need more research evidence on the effects of the minimum wage on health." Hill said. "In particular, we need to understand how it affects different types of workers differently."
Co-author on the study is Jennifer Otten, an associate professor in the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and the UW Nutritional Sciences Program. This research was funded by Arnold Ventures and the National Institutes of Health.

For more information, contact Buszkiewicz at

Grant: R24 HD042828.


James Buszkiewicz ¬¬-- James Busk-ka-witz

Heather Hill ¬¬¬¬-- Heather Hill

Jennifer Otten - Jennifer Ah-ten

University of Washington

Related Obesity Articles from Brightsurf:

11 years of data add to the evidence for using testosterone therapy to treat obesity, including as an alternative to obesity surgery
New research covering 11 years of data presented at this year's European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) show that, in obese men suffering from hypogonadism (low testosterone), treatment with testosterone injections lowers their weight and improves a wide range of other metabolic parameters.

Overlap between immunology of COVID-19 and obesity could explain the increased risk of death in people living with obesity, and also older patients
Data presented in a special COVID-19 session at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020) suggests that there are overlaps between the immunological disturbances found in both COVID-19 disease and patients with obesity, which could explain the increased disease severity and mortality risk faced by obese patients, and also elderly patients, who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

New obesity guideline: Address root causes as foundation of obesity management
besity management should focus on outcomes that patients consider to be important, not weight loss alone, and include a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of obesity, according to a new clinical practice guideline published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Changing the debate around obesity
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) needs to do more to address the ingrained stigma and discrimination faced by people with obesity, says a leading health psychologist.

Study links longer exposure to obesity and earlier development of obesity to increased risk of type 2 diabetes
Cumulative exposure to obesity could be at least as important as actually being obese in terms of risk of developing type 2 diabetes (T2D), concludes new research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes [EASD]).

How much do obesity and addictions overlap?
A large analysis of personality studies has found that people with obesity behave somewhat like people with addictions to alcohol or drugs.

Should obesity be recognized as a disease?
With obesity now affecting almost a third (29%) of the population in England, and expected to rise to 35% by 2030, should we now recognize it as a disease?

Is obesity associated with risk of pediatric MS?
A single-center study of 453 children in Germany with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigated the association of obesity with pediatric MS risk and with the response of first-line therapy in children with MS.

Women with obesity prior to conception are more likely to have children with obesity
A systematic review and meta-analysis identified significantly increased odds of child obesity when mothers have obesity before conception, according to a study published June 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Nicola Heslehurst of Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues.

Obesity medicine association announces major updates to its adult obesity algorithm
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced the immediate availability of the 2019 OMA Adult Obesity Algorithm, with new information for clinicians including the relationship between Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Dyslipidemia, and Cancer; information on investigational Anti-Obesity Pharmacotherapy; treatments for Lipodystrophy; and Pharmacokinetics and Obesity.

Read More: Obesity News and Obesity Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to