Obesity of Politicians as Indicator of a Country’s Corruption

This new study gives a quick, iffy method to identify which country’s politicians appear to be bigly corrupt, or just plain bigly.

The study is: “Obesity of Politicians and Corruption in Post‐Soviet Countries,” Pavlo Blavatskyy, Economic of Transition and Institutional Change, epub 2020. (Thanks to Gabriel Istrate for bringing this to our attention.) The author, at Montpellier Business School, France, explains:

We collected 299 frontal face images of 2017 cabinet ministers from 15 post‐Soviet states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan). For each image, the minister’s body‐mass index is estimated using a computer vision algorithm. The median estimated body‐mass index of cabinet ministers is highly correlated with conventional measures of corruption (Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, World Bank worldwide governance indicator Control of Corruption, Index of Public Integrity). 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….

Estimated body-mass index for ministers in our dataset is generally quite high. According to the estimated body-mass index, 96 out of 299 ministers (32%) are severely obese (estimated body-mass index between 35 and 40). In particular, 13 out of 24 Uzbek ministers (54%), 8 out 18 Tajik ministers (44%) and 10 out of 24 Ukrainian ministers (42%) are estimated to be severely obese. Another 13 out of 299 ministers in our dataset (4%) are very severely obese (estimated body-mass index greater than 40). In particular, 3 out of 20 Kazakh ministers (15%) and 2 out of 24 Ukrainian ministers (8%) are estimated to be very severely obese. Only 10 out of 299 ministers in our dataset (3%) are estimated to have normal weight (body-mass index between 18.5 and 25). In particular, the governments of Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Uzbekistan each have one minister with an estimated normal weight. None of the ministers in our dataset is estimated to be underweight (body-mass index below 18.5).

The study is confined to the aforementioned nations.

Earlier Works

Professor Blavatskyy has done research on a wide variety of areas. Among his most celebrated previous papers is: “Why Do Young Women Marry Old Men?” Pavlo Blavatskyy, Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 85, no. 3, 2018, pp. 509-525.