Economic development, urbanization, technological change and overweight: what do we learn from 244 Demographic and Health Surveys?

Econ Hum Biol. 2014 Jul;14:109-27. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2013.11.003. Epub 2013 Dec 19.


Obesity and overweight are spreading fast in developing countries, and have reached world record levels in some of them. Capturing the size, patterns and trends of the problem has, however, been severely hampered by the lack of comparable data in low and middle income countries. We seek to begin to fill this gap by testing several hypotheses on the determinants/correlates of overweight among women, related to the influence of economic and technological development. We undertake econometric analysis of nationally representative data on about 878,000 women aged 15-49 from 244 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for 56 countries over the years 1991-2009. Our findings support most previously expressed hypotheses of what might explain obesity patterns in developing countries, but they also reject some prior notions and add considerable nuance to the emerging pattern.

Keywords: Developing countries; Economic development; Overweight; Socioeconomic factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Body Mass Index
  • Developed Countries / economics
  • Developed Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Developing Countries / economics
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Economic Development / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Economic
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Urbanization*
  • Young Adult