Income inequality and obesity prevalence among OECD countries

J Biosoc Sci. 2012 Jul;44(4):417-32. doi: 10.1017/S002193201100071X. Epub 2012 Jan 3.


Using recent pooled data from the World Health Organization Global Infobase and the World Factbook compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, this study assesses the relation between income inequality and obesity prevalence among 31 OECD countries through a series of bivariate and multivariate linear regressions. The United States and Mexico well lead OECD countries in both obesity prevalence and income inequality. A sensitivity analysis suggests that the inclusion or exclusion of these two extreme cases can fundamentally change the findings. When the two countries are included, the results reveal a positive correlation between income inequality and obesity prevalence. This correlation is more salient among females than among males. Income inequality alone is associated with 16% and 35% of the variations in male and female obesity rates, respectively, across OECD countries in 2010. Higher levels of income inequality in the 2005-2010 period were associated with a more rapid increase in obesity prevalence from 2002 to 2010. These associations, however, virtually disappear when the US and Mexico have been excluded from the analysis. Findings from this study underscore the importance of assessing the impact of extreme cases on the relation between income inequality and health outcomes. The potential pathways from income inequality to the alarmingly high rates of obesity in the cases of the US and Mexico warrant further research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Statistics as Topic