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Sex differences in obesity rates in poor countries: Evidence from South Africa

  • Case, Anne
  • Menendez, Alicia

Globally, men and women face markedly different risks of obesity. In all but of handful of (primarily Western European) countries, obesity is much more prevalent among women than men. We examine several potential explanations for this phenomenon. We analyze differences between men and women in reports and effects of potential 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 urban African township in the Cape Town metropolitan area. 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 - childhood circumstances and adult SES - can fully explain the difference in obesity rates between men and women that we find in our sample. More speculatively, in South Africa, 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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File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B73DX-4WSRF50-1/2/a85dc63d1655709c0ed861319fadc1b9
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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Economics & Human Biology.

Volume (Year): 7 (2009)
Issue (Month): 3 (December)
Pages: 271-282

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Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:7:y:2009:i:3:p:271-282
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622964

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  1. 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.
  2. John Komlos & Ariane Breitfelder & Marco Sunder, 2008. "The Transition to Post-industrial BMI Values Among US Children," NBER Working Papers 13898, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Ted Bergstrom, 1995. "A Survey of Theories of the Family," Papers _027, University of Michigan, Department of Economics.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  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. 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.
  8. Anne Case & Angus Deaton, 2006. "Health and wellbeing in Udaipur and South Africa," Working Papers 234, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
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