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Poverty

Females affected more by poverty-obesity link than men

he findings emphasise the need for programmes and policies addressing the adverse health effects of socioeconomic disadvantage in childhood and adolescence

Adolescent girls living in economically disadvantaged families are more likely than their male counterparts to become overweight or obese, according to research from The University of Texas at Austin. The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, shows long-lasting consequences of economic hardship in childhood for the risk of obesity in adulthood.

"Girls born into socioeconomically disadvantaged families are exposed from early life to an unfolding chain of lower socioeconomic status and higher body mass," said Tetyana Pudrovska, assistant professor of sociology and lead author of the study. "Women are more strongly impacted than men both by adverse effects of low socioeconomic status on obesity and by adverse effects of obesity on status attainment."

The findings emphasise the need for programmes and policies addressing the adverse health effects of socioeconomic disadvantage in childhood and adolescence, she added.

Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, the researchers tracked patterns of weight gain among more than 10,000 men and women from high school graduation in 1957 to later career stages in 1993. The findings show that economic disadvantage in early life is significantly linked to higher BMI at age 18 and a greater risk of obesity at age 54. This link is the strongest among women and absent or inconsistent among men.

In addition to health risks, obese and overweight women face multiple social and economic disadvantages, Pudrovska says. The study shows that obese women are less likely than their thinner peers to secure important social resources including education, occupational prestige and earnings. This socioeconomic disadvantage in adulthood further increased the risk of obesity, suggesting a vicious circle of obesity and compromised economic resources. According to the study, this effect was not evident among men.

"In our perpetual quest for female beauty, slenderness has become paramount," said Pudrovska. "Physical attractiveness is more closely tied to thinness and more strictly enforced for girls and women than boys and men."

To stop the cycle of poverty and obesity, Pudrovska urges the need for more public awareness of weight-based discrimination in the labour market.

"Because obesity is not a protected status under federal law, promoting legal protection of overweight and obese persons from unfair treatment in the workplace is important, especially among women," she added.

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