Socioeconomic status and obesity

Epidemiol Rev. 2007:29:29-48. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxm001. Epub 2007 May 2.


The objective of this review was to update Sobal and Stunkard's exhaustive review of the literature on the relation between socioeconomic status (SES) and obesity (Psychol Bull 1989;105:260-75). Diverse research databases (including CINAHL, ERIC, MEDLINE, and Social Science Abstracts) were comprehensively searched during the years 1988-2004 inclusive, using "obesity," "socioeconomic status," and synonyms as search terms. A total of 333 published studies, representing 1,914 primarily cross-sectional associations, were included in the review. The overall pattern of results, for both men and women, was of an increasing proportion of positive associations and a decreasing proportion of negative associations as one moved from countries with high levels of socioeconomic development to countries with medium and low levels of development. Findings varied by SES indicator; for example, negative associations (lower SES associated with larger body size) for women in highly developed countries were most common with education and occupation, while positive associations for women in medium- and low-development countries were most common with income and material possessions. Patterns for women in higher- versus lower-development countries were generally less striking than those observed by Sobal and Stunkard; this finding is interpreted in light of trends related to globalization. Results underscore a view of obesity as a social phenomenon, for which appropriate action includes targeting both economic and sociocultural factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Global Health*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / economics
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Social Class*