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Decomposing race and gender differences in underweight and obesity in South Africa


  • Averett, Susan L.
  • Stacey, Nicholas
  • Wang, Yang


Using data from the National Income Dynamics Study, we document differentials in both underweight and obesity across race and gender in post-Apartheid South Africa. Using a nonlinear decomposition method, we decompose these differences across gender within race and then across race within gender. Less than one third of the differences in obesity and underweight across gender are explained by differences in covariates. In contrast, at least 70% of the obesity differences across race are explained by differences in covariates. Behavioral variables such as smoking and exercise explain the largest part of the bodyweight differentials across gender. For bodyweight differentials across race within gender, however, socioeconomic status and background variables have the largest explanatory power for obesity differentials, while background variables play the key role in explaining the underweight differentials. These results indicate that eradicating obesity and underweight differentials will require targeting policies to specific groups.

Suggested Citation

  • Averett, Susan L. & Stacey, Nicholas & Wang, Yang, 2014. "Decomposing race and gender differences in underweight and obesity in South Africa," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 15(C), pages 23-40.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:15:y:2014:i:c:p:23-40 DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2014.05.003

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Joanna Ryan & Murray Leibbrandt, 2015. "Multidimensional Food Insecurity Measurement," SALDRU Working Papers 160, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    2. Amin, Vikesh & Lhila, Aparna, 2016. "Decomposing racial differences in adolescent smoking in the U.S," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 22(C), pages 161-176.
    3. Sengupta, Angan & Angeli, Federica & Syamala, Thelakkat S. & Dagnelie, Pieter C. & Schayck, C.P. van, 2015. "Overweight and obesity prevalence among Indian women by place of residence and socio-economic status: Contrasting patterns from ‘underweight states’ and ‘overweight states’ of India," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 138(C), pages 161-169.

    More about this item


    Obesity; Underweight; South Africa; Fairlie decomposition;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality


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