Obesity weighs on wealthy in poor countries

Sun Nov 21, 2010 9:27pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The obesity epidemic has spread to poorer nations, where it almost entirely affects wealthy citizens, while the poor in the same nations still remain underweight, a study said.

By contrast, obesity tends to have a greater impact on the poor in developed nations, such as the United States.

"There's a lot of discussion on how the problems of obesity and overweight are now spreading to poor and developing countries," said S.V. Subramanian, at the Harvard School of Public Health, who led a recent study.

But the question of who is most affected within those countries is almost never asked, he told Reuters Health.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Subramanian and his colleagues looked for weight trends in more than half a million women in 54 developing countries between 1994 and 2008.

Overall, they found that just about a quarter of the women were overweight, with the rate varying widely between nations -- from three out of every four women in Egypt, to just 6 percent in Ethiopia.

More importantly, as levels of income and education rose, so did the weight of individuals. Those in the top quarter of wealth had more than twice the risk of being overweight compared to the bottom quarter.

Meanwhile, a substantial portion of the population -- often larger than the overweight portion -- still suffered from being underweight.

"On the one hand, you have populations where there is a need to increase calorie intake, and on the other, you have the rich folks who are overconsuming," Subramanian said.   Continued...

<p>Subway commuters walk through the turnstiles while leaving the U.S. Open in New York September 4, 2007.REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files</p>