Obesity and inequities in health in the developing world

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Sep;28(9):1181-6. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0802716.


Objective: To update the social distribution of women's obesity in the developing world and, in particular, to identify the specific level of economic development at which, if any, women's obesity in the developing world starts to fuel inequities in health.

Design: Multilevel logistic regression analyses applied to anthropometric and socioeconomic data collected by nationally representative cross-sectional surveys conducted from 1992 to 2000 in 37 developing countries within a wide range of world regions and stages of economic development (gross national product (GNP) from 190 to 4440 US dollars per capita).

Subjects: : In total, 148 579 nonpregnant women aged 20-49 y.

Measurements: Body mass index to assess obesity status; quartiles of years of education to assess woman's socioeconomic status (SES), and GNP per capita to assess country's stage of economic development.

Results: Belonging to the lower SES group confers strong protection against obesity in low-income economies, but it is a systematic risk factor for the disease in upper-middle income developing economies. A multilevel logistic model-including an interaction term between the country's GNP and each woman's SES-indicates that obesity starts to fuel health inequities in the developing world when the GNP reaches a value of about 2500 US dollars per capita.

Conclusions: For most upper-middle income economies and part of the lower-middle income economies, obesity among adult women is already a relevant booster of health inequities and, in the absence of concerted national public actions to prevent obesity, economic growth will greatly expand the list of developing countries where this situation occurs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Developing Countries*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors