In Rich Countries, It’s the Poor Who Become Obese

Dr Jonas Minet Kinge PhD Researcher, Department of Health Statistics, Norwegian Institute of Public Health Associate professor, Department of Health Management and Health Economics University of Oslo Norwegian Institute of Public Health Oslo, Interview with:
Dr Jonas Minet Kinge PhD
Researcher, Department of Health Statistics, Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Associate professor, Department of Health Management and Health Economics University of Oslo
Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Oslo, Norway

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

Response: Previous studies have shown that the number of people with obesity increases with the gross domestic product (GDP) of a country. Previous research has also indicated that education can be an important factor in this context. The aim of this new study was to explore the assumption from previous studies that obesity is linked to GDP and education, and to include new data from several different countries.

The results from this study confirm that there is an association between obesity, education and GDP. The prevalence of obesity increases with rising GDP, but only among individuals with lower levels of education. There is no significant increase in obesity among those with higher education.

This means that:

  • In countries with low GDP there is more obesity among those with high education.
  • In countries with high GDP there is more obesity among those with low education.
  • The study also found that the relationship was somewhat more marked among women than among men.

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

Response: Education might be important for understanding the increasing obesity seen across the globe. However, what might account for the reversal of the association between obesity and education by economic development? As discussed in related literature, this might be related to food consumption and changes in physical demands. When countries become richer, changes in living conditions occur that predominantly affect the weight of those with low education. For example, earlier literature suggests that low education in poorer countries is associated with limited resources available for excess food consumption, and more physically demanding work. These conditions limit obesity among those with low education in developing countries. In rich countries with economies based largely on service and technology industries, most people can afford calorie-rich foods and there are, overall, fewer jobs with physically demanding work. This boosts the prevalence of obesity among those with lower education in high GDP countries. This view might be important in the development of public health strategies for reducing obesity.

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

Response: Future research could try to explain the mechanisms behind the findings. Furthermore, there is a need for research on how to stop the increasing obesity prevalence, which is found in almost all countries in across the world.


Educational inequalities in obesity and gross domestic product: evidence from 70 countries

Jonas Minet Kinge, Bjørn Heine Strand, Stein Emil Vollset, Vegard Skirbekk

J Epidemiol Community Health jech-2014-205353Published Online First: 15 July 2015doi:10.1136/jech-2014-205353

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Dr Jonas Minet Kinge PhD (2015). In Rich Countries, It’s the Poor Who Become Obese 

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