Better-educated women are a healthier weight, new research reveals

Apr 30, 2008

A new comparison of multi-national data, released this month, reveals that highly educated women have a healthier average weight than less educated women, but that the meaning of “healthier” changes according to a nation’s relative wealth. In countries where malnutrition is prevalent, better-educated women weigh more. But in wealthier countries — with rapidly growing rates of obesity — better-educated women weigh less.

“As a population moves through the nutrition transition, it is the most educated, and highest income, who are the first to exit under-nutrition. They are also the first to adjust their diet and physical activity to avoid the deleterious effects of being overweight,” explained John Strauss, professor of economics at the University of Southern California.

“It appears that it is women who tend to lead this transition,” he added.

More than half of the adult population is underweight in Bangladesh, the poorest country analyzed by Strauss and Duncan Thomas (Duke University). In Bangladesh, average female body mass increased with every additional year of schooling.

In contrast, only 1 percent of people in the United States are underweight. Better-educated women in the United States, the wealthiest country in the study, had a lower average body mass index the more education they’d received, the researchers found.

“Obesity rates rise with economic development which is troubling given the relationship between obesity and cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and possibly cancer,” Strauss said. For example, the researchers show that almost twice as many women are now overweight as are underweight in China.

Furthermore, in developing countries worldwide, women are more likely than men to be overweight or obese. The gender gap is largest in South Africa, where more than one-third of women are obese, compared with about 10 percent of South African men.

However, Strauss and Thomas show that once women receive a certain amount of schooling, average body mass index (BMI) falls and they are more likely to be at a healthy weight.

“Behavioral changes have important impacts on health outcomes,” Strauss said.

For example, the average BMI of a Mexican woman — where 74 percent of the women are overweight or obese — declines for every year of schooling she receives in excess of just five years. There is a similar sharp decline in the average female’s BMI in South Africa after five years of education.

BMI is a widely used measure that accounts for both weight and height.

The United States was the only nation surveyed in which better-educated men had a lower average BMI than less-educated men. In every other country, the average male body mass increased with every additional year of schooling.

Source: University of Southern California

Explore further: Bar attendance supports heavy drinking by young adults in the US-Mexico border region

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China to send orbiter to moon and back

32 minutes ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

Beijing's focus on coal lost in haze of smog

42 minutes ago

The soaring, grimy chimneys of the coal-fired power station have belched the last of their choking fumes into Beijing's air, authorities say—but experts doubt the plan will ease the capital's smog.

Apple issues security warning for iCloud

1 hour ago

Apple has posted a new security warning for users of its iCloud online storage service amid reports of a concerted effort to steal passwords and other data from people who use the popular service in China.

Review: Better cameras, less glare in iPad Air 2

1 hour ago

If I've seen you taking photos with a tablet computer, I've probably made fun of you (though maybe not to your face, depending on how big you are). I'm old school: I much prefer looking through the viewfinder ...

Recommended for you

Study examines effect of hospital switch to for-profit status

12 hours ago

Hospital conversion from nonprofit to for-profit status in the 2000s was associated with better subsequent financial health but had no relationship to the quality of care delivered, mortality rates, or the proportion of poor ...

Hospital acquisitions leading to increased patient costs

12 hours ago

The trend of hospitals consolidating medical groups and physician practices in an effort to improve the coordination of patient care is backfiring and increasing the cost of patient care, according to a new study led by the ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Arthur_Dent
not rated yet May 02, 2008
A Question, then:

How Much Schooling does it take, to get women to be healthy, across-the-board ( as-in in any culture/country )?

THAT could be made the Standard Level of education for women, and

the male equivalent could be found, too.

That would be nice: *objective* standard for education, rather than cultural assumption...

( having seen enough different studies' reports, & experienced enough, I suspect that physical-education is more-required for males than for females. Another study said 90 minutes/week for females, but supposed that more might be required for males, I think they're right )