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

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  • Anne Case

    (Princeton University and NBER)

  • Alicia Menendez

    (University of Chicago)

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Anne Case & Alicia Menendez, 2007. "Sex Differences in Obesity Rates in Poor Countries: Evidence from South Africa," Working Papers 1004, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:rpdevs:case_and_menendez_ehb_dec_2009.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. Ciro Avitabile, 2012. "Does Information Improve the Health Behavior of Adults Targeted by a Conditional Transfer Program?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 47(3), pages 785-825.
    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. Römling, Cornelia & Qaim, Matin, 2011. "Direct and Indirect Determinants of Obesity: The Case of Indonesia," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Berlin 2011 70, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
    4. Custodio, Estefanía & Descalzo, Miguel Ángel & Roche, Jesús & Molina, Laura & Sánchez, Ignacio & Lwanga, Magdalena & Torres, Alberto Manuel & Fernández-Zincke, Eduardo & Bernis, Cristina & Villamor, E, 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    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. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. Martin Wittenberg, 2013. "The Weight of Success: The Body Mass Index and Economic Well-Being in Southern Africa," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 59, pages 62-83, October.
    12. 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.
    13. Butzlaf, Iris & Minos, Dimitrios, 2016. "Understanding the Drivers of Overweight and Obesity in Developing Countries: The Case of South Africa," Discussion Papers 232025, Georg-August-Universitaet Goettingen, GlobalFood, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.
    14. 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.
    15. 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.
    16. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    South Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • D13 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Household Production and Intrahouse Allocation
    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General

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