Profound Educational Disparities in Obesity Widens Over Three Decades

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ruopeng An, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
College of Applied Health Sciences
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Champaign, IL 61820

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Health disparity is a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic and environmental disadvantage. One fundamental goal in the Healthy People 2020 is to “achieve health equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups”. Obesity is a leading risk factor for many adverse health outcomes such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Sweeping across the nation during the past 3 decades, the prevalence of obesity increased from 15% in 1980 to 35% in 2012 among U.S. adults. The obesity epidemic is marked by salient demographic and socioeconomic disparities pertaining to gender, race/ethnicity, education, income and geographic location.

In this study, we examined the annual trends in educational disparity in obesity among U.S. adults 18 years and older from 1984 to 2013 using data from a nationally-representative health survey. We found that the obesity prevalence among people with primary school or lower education increased from 17.46% or 3.41 times the prevalence among college graduates (5.12%) in 1984 to 36.16% or 1.73 times the prevalence among college graduates (20.94%) in 2013. In any given year, the obesity prevalence increased monotonically with lower education level. The obesity prevalence across education subgroups without a college degree gradually converged since early 2000s, whereas that between those subgroups and college graduates diverged since late 1980s. Absolute educational disparity in obesity widened by 60.84% to 61.14% during 1984-2013 based on the Absolute Concentration Index and the Slope Index of Inequality, respectively; meanwhile, relative educational disparity narrowed by 52.06% to 52.15% based on the Relative Index of Inequality and the Relative Concentration Index, respectively. The trends in educational disparity in obesity differed substantially by gender, race/ethnicity, age group, and obesity severity.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Using 3 decades of data from a uniquely large nationally-representative survey, this study documented the profound educational disparity in obesity and its long-term trajectory among U.S. adults. At any given point in time, lower education level was associated with noticeably higher obesity rate. The obesity prevalence across education subgroups without a college degree gradually converged whereas that between those subgroups and college graduates diverged, resulting in the widening of absolute educational disparity in obesity over the past 3 decades. The trends in educational disparity in obesity differed noticeably by population subgroups and obesity severity.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Future research should explore the underlining driving forces that lead to sustained educational disparities in obesity, and design effective population-level interventions to address such disparities.

Citation:

Educational disparity in obesity among U.S. adults, 1984-2013

An, Ruopeng Annals of Epidemiology
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.annepidem.2015.06.004

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Ruopeng An, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, College of Applied Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, &Champaign, IL 61820 (2015). Profound Educational Disparities in Obesity Widens Over Three Decades 

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