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Sex Differences in Obesity Rates in Poor Countries: Evidence from South Africa

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  • Anne Case
  • Alicia Menendez

Abstract

Globally, men and women face markedly different risks of obesity. In all but of handful of (primarily Western European) countries, obesity is more prevalent among women than men. In this paper, we examine several potential explanations for this phenomenon. We analyze differences between men and women in reports and effects of the proximate causes of obesity -- physical exertion and food intake -- and the underlying causes of obesity -- childhood and adult poverty, depression, and attitudes about obesity. We evaluate the evidence for each explanation using data collected in an African township outside of Cape Town. Three factors explain the greater obesity rates we find among women. Women who were nutritionally deprived as children are significantly more likely to be obese as adults, while men who were deprived as children face no greater risk. In addition, women of higher adult socioeconomic status are significantly more likely to be obese, which is not true for men. These two factors can fully explain the difference in obesity rates we find in our sample. Finally (and more speculatively), women's perceptions of an 'ideal' female body are larger than men's perceptions of the 'ideal' male body, and individuals with larger 'ideal' body images are significantly more likely to be obese.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13541.

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Date of creation: Oct 2007
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Publication status: published as Case, Anne & Menendez, Alicia, 2009. "Sex differences in obesity rates in poor countries: Evidence from South Africa," Economics and Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 271-282, December.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13541

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  1. Anne Case & Angus Deaton, 2009. "Health and Well-Being in Udaipur and South Africa," NBER Chapters, in: Developments in the Economics of Aging, pages 317-349 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Zagorsky, Jay L., 2005. "Health and wealth: The late-20th century obesity epidemic in the U.S," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 296-313, July.
  3. Ulijaszek, Stanley J., 2003. "Trends in body size, diet and food availability in the Cook Islands in the second half of the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 123-137, January.
  4. Bergstrom, Theodore C., 1993. "A survey of theories of the family," Handbook of Population and Family Economics, in: M. R. Rosenzweig & Stark, O. (ed.), Handbook of Population and Family Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 2, pages 21-79 Elsevier.
  5. Costa-Font, Joan & Gil, Joan, 2008. "Generational effects and gender height dimorphism in contemporary Spain," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 1-18, March.
  6. Osmani, Siddiq & Sen, Amartya, 2003. "The hidden penalties of gender inequality: fetal origins of ill-health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 105-121, January.
  7. Hoddinott, John & Haddad, Lawrence, 1995. "Does Female Income Share Influence Household Expenditures? Evidence from Cote d'Ivoire," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 57(1), pages 77-96, February.
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Cited by:
  1. Rodrigo Barros, 2008. "Wealthier But Not Much Healthier: Effects of a Health Insurance Program for the Poor in Mexico," Discussion Papers 09-002, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  2. Romling, Cornelia & Qaim, Matin, 2011. "Direct and Indirect Determinants of Obesity: The Case of Indonesia," Discussion Papers 108350, Georg-August-Universitaet Goettingen, GlobalFood, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.
  3. Classen, Timothy J., 2010. "Measures of the intergenerational transmission of body mass index between mothers and their children in the United States, 1981-2004," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 30-43, March.
  4. Radwan, Amr & Gil, José M., 2014. "On the Nexus between Economic and Obesity Crisis in Spain: Parametric and Nonparametric Analysis of the Role of Economic Factors on Obesity Prevalence," 88th Annual Conference, April 9-11, 2014, AgroParisTech, Paris, France 170341, Agricultural Economics Society.
  5. Griffiths, Paula L. & Johnson, William & Cameron, Noël & Pettifor, John M. & Norris, Shane A., 2013. "In urban South Africa, 16 year old adolescents experience greater health equality than children," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 502-514.
  6. Roemling, Cornelia & Qaim, Matin, 2012. "Obesity Trends, Determinants and Policy Implications in Indonesia," 2012 Conference, August 18-24, 2012, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil 126208, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
  7. Fumagalli, Elena & Mentzakis, Emmanouil & Suhrcke, Marc, 2013. "Do political factors matter in explaining under- and overweight outcomes in developing countries?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 48-56.
  8. Anne Case, 2010. "Comment on "The Education Gradient in Old Age Disability"," NBER Chapters, in: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging, pages 120-122 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Custodio, Estefanía & Descalzo, Miguel Ángel & Roche, Jesús & Molina, Laura & Sánchez, Ignacio & Lwanga, Magdalena & Torres, Alberto Manuel & Fernández-Zincke, Eduardo & Bernis, Cristina & Villam, 2010. "The economic and nutrition transition in Equatorial Guinea coincided with a double burden of over- and under nutrition," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 8(1), pages 80-87, March.
  10. Martin Wittenberg, 2011. "The Weight of Success: The Body Mass Index and Economic Well-being in South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 65, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  11. Tafreschi, Darjusch, 2011. "The Income Body Weight Gradients in the Developing Economy of China," Economics Working Paper Series 1140, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.

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