Modernity and obesity in coastal and Highland Papua New Guinea

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1995 Mar;19(3):154-61.


Objective: To investigate the association between individual degree of modernization and obesity in Papua New Guineans using a score of relative 'modernity'.

Design: Cross-sectional survey in six populations with varying degrees of modernity. Independent effects of modernity score, components of modernity score, age and physical activity were assessed in relation to general obesity (body mass index (BMI)) and body fat distribution (waist-hip ratio (WHR)). A sub-study of the relationship between diet and modernity was also performed.

Setting: Population-based samples of subjects in three Highland and three coastal locations in the developing country of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Subjects: 1877 subjects > or = 25 years of age attended the survey.

Measurements: Age, physical activity, BMI, WHR, 2-h oral glucose tolerance test, and modernity score, based on area of origin, father's employment, type and duration of individual's employment, education, years in an urban centre, housing type and spouse score.

Results: More modern subjects had higher mean BMI and lower levels of physical activity, and mean WHR also varied with modernity in men but not women. In linear regression analysis, total modernity score was significantly associated with both BMI and WHR in men and women, independently of age and physical activity. When components of the modernity score were examined, younger age, more sophisticated housing and increasing number of years in an urban centre were independently associated with BMI in men and women, while education level and reduced physical activity were also significant predictors in men. Associations with WHR were weaker. Results of the dietary sub-study suggested that the lowest energy and nutrient intakes occurred in the least modern men and women.

Conclusion: Aspects of modernity, such as more sophisticated housing and greater number of years spent in an urban centre, may be markers of higher income and increasing adoption of Western ways, which in turn are associated with physical inactivity and increased availability of energy-dense Western food, thus promoting obesity in this rapidly developing Pacific nation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Altitude
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diet*
  • Educational Status
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Regression Analysis