Boston, MA A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) finds that high body mass index (BMI) in developing countries remains primarily a problem of the rich. The findings suggest that the shift towards overweight and obesity among the poor that has already happened in wealthier countries has not yet happened in developing countries.
The study appears in an advance online edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and will appear in an upcoming print edition.
"Previous research on the increasing overweight and obesity burden in developing countries has assumed that the burden is shared by everybody within these countries; however, we found that the social patterning of weight continues to closely resemble the unequal distribution of income and other resources," said S V Subramanian, lead author of the paper and associate professor in the department of society, human development, and health at HSPH.
Subramanian and his colleagues analyzed data from nationally representative samples of 538,140 women ages 15 to 49 drawn from Demographic and Health Surveys conducted in 54 low- to middle-income countries between 1994 and 2008. They looked at BMI, education, household wealth, and the per capita Gross Domestic Product (pcGDP) from the women's home countries. The researchers found an association between BMI and wealth in every country except Moldova and Kazakhstan. Globally, a 25% increase on the measure of wealth index was associated with a 54% increase in BMI and a 33% increase in overweight. Similar patterns were observed in urban and rural areas within countries. There were no strong associations found between weight and either education or pcGDP.
The researchers theorize that these findings could be due to a number of factors, including that women in higher income groups are more likely to have diets richer in animal fats than lower-income women. Also, cultural norms in developing countries may favor fatty body sh
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Harvard School of Public Health