Socioeconomic status and adiposity in childhood: a systematic review of cross-sectional studies 1990-2005

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Feb;16(2):275-84. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.35.


Background: Sobal and Stunkard's review (1989) of 34 studies from developed countries published after 1941, found inconsistent relationships between socioeconomic status (SES) and childhood adiposity. Inverse associations (36%), no associations (38%), and positive associations (26%) were found in similar proportions. In view of the trends in pediatric obesity, the relationship between SES and adiposity may have changed.

Objective: To describe the cross-sectional association between SES and adiposity in school-age children from western developed countries in epidemiological studies since 1989.

Methods and procedures: PubMed database was searched to identify potentially relevant publications. Epidemiological studies from western developed countries presenting cross-sectional data on the bivariate association between an SES indicator and objectively measured adiposity in childhood (5-18 years), carried out after 1989 were included. SES indicators included parental education, parental occupation, family income, composite SES, and neighborhood SES.

Results: Forty-five studies satisfied the review criteria. SES was inversely associated with adiposity in 19 studies (42%), there was no association in 12 studies (27%), and in 14 studies (31%) there was a mixture of no associations and inverse associations across subgroups. No positive SES-adiposity associations were seen in unadjusted analyses. With parental education as the SES indicator, inverse associations with adiposity were found in 15 of 20 studies (75%).

Discussion: Research carried out within the past 15 years finds that associations between SES and adiposity in children are predominately inverse, and positive associations have all but disappeared. Research is needed to understand the mechanisms through which parental social class influences childhood adiposity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class*