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Socioeconomic status and weight change in adults: a review


  • Ball, Kylie
  • Crawford, David


In developed countries, obesity is inversely associated with socioeconomic status (SES) among women, and less consistently among men; whereas, in developing countries, the association is direct. However, the relationship of SES to weight change over time is unknown. This relationship was the focus of the present literature review. It was hypothesized that, compared with persons of higher SES, persons of low SES would show greater weight gain or risk of weight gain over time. A search of electronic databases identified 34 relevant articles from developed countries reporting on studies that assessed the relationship of various measures of SES with weight change over time in adults (there were too few papers from developing countries (n=1) to include). Results of the methodologically strongest studies (those which obtained objectively measured adiposity data and used a follow-up period of 4 years or more) showed that, among non-black samples, there were relatively consistent inverse associations between occupation and weight gain for men and women. When SES was assessed using education, evidence was slightly less consistent, but still provided some support for the hypothesized relationship. However, when income was used as the indicator of SES, findings were inconsistent, although there were fewer studies available. There was little support for a relationship between SES and weight gain for black samples. In the context of the worldwide epidemic of obesity, these findings suggest that in developed countries, weight gain prevention efforts might best be focused on those who are most socioeconomically disadvantaged, particularly those in lower status occupations.

Suggested Citation

  • Ball, Kylie & Crawford, David, 2005. "Socioeconomic status and weight change in adults: a review," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(9), pages 1987-2010, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:60:y:2005:i:9:p:1987-2010

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Scharoun-Lee, Melissa & Adair, Linda S. & Kaufman, Jay S. & Gordon-Larsen, Penny, 2009. "Obesity, race/ethnicity and the multiple dimensions of socioeconomic status during the transition to adulthood: A factor analysis approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(4), pages 708-716, February.
    2. Tafreschi, Darjusch, 2015. "The income body weight gradients in the developing economy of China," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 16(C), pages 115-134.
    3. Sund, Erik Reidar & Jones, Andy & Midthjell, Kristian, 2010. "Individual, family, and area predictors of BMI and BMI change in an adult Norwegian population: Findings from the HUNT study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 70(8), pages 1194-1202, April.
    4. Rundle, Andrew & Field, Sam & Park, Yoosun & Freeman, Lance & Weiss, Christopher C. & Neckerman, Kathryn, 2008. "Personal and neighborhood socioeconomic status and indices of neighborhood walk-ability predict body mass index in New York City," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(12), pages 1951-1958, December.
    5. Lindsay McLaren & M. Auld & Jenny Godley & David Still & Lise Gauvin, 2010. "Examining the association between socioeconomic position and body mass index in 1978 and 2005 among Canadian working-age women and men," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 55(3), pages 193-200, June.
    6. Monsivais, Pablo & Martin, Adam & Suhrcke, Marc & Forouhi, Nita G. & Wareham, Nicholas J., 2015. "Job-loss and weight gain in British adults: Evidence from two longitudinal studies," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 143(C), pages 223-231.
    7. Zeng, Wu & Eisenberg, Dan T.A. & Jovel, Karla Rubio & Undurraga, Eduardo A. & Nyberg, Colleen & Tanner, Susan & Reyes-García, Victoria & Leonard, William R. & Castaño, Juliana & Huanca, Tomás & McDade, 2013. "Adult obesity: Panel study from native Amazonians," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(2), pages 227-235.
    8. Sanchez-Vaznaugh, Emma V. & Kawachi, Ichiro & Subramanian, S.V. & Sánchez, Brisa N. & Acevedo-Garcia, Dolores, 2008. "Differential effect of birthplace and length of residence on body mass index (BMI) by education, gender and race/ethnicity," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(8), pages 1300-1310, October.
    9. Baum II, Charles L. & Ruhm, Christopher J., 2009. "Age, socioeconomic status and obesity growth," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 635-648, May.
    10. Soklaridis, Sophie & Ammendolia, Carlo & Cassidy, David, 2010. "Looking upstream to understand low back pain and return to work: Psychosocial factors as the product of system issues," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(9), pages 1557-1566, November.
    11. Ajay Mahal & Lainie Sutton, 2014. "Economic prosperity and non-communicable disease: understanding the linkages," Chapters,in: Handbook on Food, chapter 12, pages 278-324 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    12. Umberson, Debra & Liu, Hui & Mirowsky, John & Reczek, Corinne, 2011. "Parenthood and trajectories of change in body weight over the life course," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(9), pages 1323-1331.
    13. Vermeer, Willemijn M. & Steenhuis, Ingrid H.M. & Seidell, Jacob C., 2009. "From the point-of-purchase perspective: A qualitative study of the feasibility of interventions aimed at portion-size," Health Policy, Elsevier, vol. 90(1), pages 73-80, April.
    14. Butzlaff, Iris, 2016. "BMI Growth Rates and the Nutrition Transition: The Role of Income, Inequality and Income Growth in Russia," Discussion Papers 232914, Georg-August-Universitaet Goettingen, GlobalFood, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.
    15. Backett-Milburn, Kathryn C. & Wills, Wendy J. & Roberts, Mei-Li & Lawton, Julia, 2010. "Food, eating and taste: Parents' perspectives on the making of the middle class teenager," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(7), pages 1316-1323, October.
    16. Kooreman, Peter & Scherpenzeel, Annette, 2014. "High frequency body mass measurement, feedback, and health behaviors," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 14(C), pages 141-153.
    17. Wen, Ming & Maloney, Thomas N., 2014. "Neighborhood socioeconomic status and BMI differences by immigrant and legal status: Evidence from Utah," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 12(C), pages 120-131.
    18. 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.
    19. Pampel, Fred C. & Denney, Justin T. & Krueger, Patrick M., 2012. "Obesity, SES, and economic development: A test of the reversal hypothesis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(7), pages 1073-1081.
    20. Ingunn Holden Bergh & Øivind Skare & Annalena Aase & Knut-Inge Klepp & Nanna Lien, 2016. "Weight development from age 13 to 30 years and adolescent socioeconomic status: The Norwegian Longitudinal Health Behaviour study," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 61(4), pages 465-473, May.
    21. Scott A. Carson, 2013. "Statures, BMIs, and Weight: A Reassessment," CESifo Working Paper Series 4540, CESifo Group Munich.


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