Four Decades of Obesity Trends among Non-Hispanic Whites and Blacks in the United States: Analyzing the Influences of Educational Inequalities in Obesity and Population Improvements in Education




Yu, Yan

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Public Library of Science


Both obesity (body mass index ≥ 30) and educational attainment have increased dramatically in the United States since the 1970s. This study analyzed the influences of educational inequalities in obesity and population improvements in education on national obesity trends between 1970 and 2010. For non-Hispanic white and black males and females aged 25-74 years, educational differences in the probability of being obese were estimated from the 1971-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, and population distributions of age and educational groups, from the 1970 Census and 2010 American Community Survey. In the total population, obesity increased from 15.7% to 38.8%, and there were increases in the greater obese probabilities of non-college graduates relative to four-year college graduates. The increase in obesity would have been lower by 10% (2.2 percentage points) if educational inequalities in obesity had stayed at their 1970 values and lower by one third (7.9 points) if obesity inequalities had been eliminated. Obesity inequalities were larger for females than males and for whites than blacks, and obesity did not differ by education among black males. As a result, the impact of obesity inequalities on the obesity trend was largest among white females (a 47% reduction in the obesity increase if obesity inequalities had been eliminated), and virtually zero among black males. On the other hand, without educational improvements, the obesity increase would have been 9% more in the total population, 23% more among white females and not different in the other three subpopulations. Results indicate that obesity inequalities made sizable contributions to the obesity trends, and the obesity reductions associated with educational improvements were more limited.



adult, african americans, aged, cross-sectional studies, european continental ancestry group, female, humans, male, middle aged, nutrition surveys, obesity, prevalence, united states, educational status, health education, socioeconomic factors



PloS one


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Open Access

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