Using over 70 nationally representative surveys, I find evidence of a dramatic increase in the share of women who are overweight in developing and transition economies, especially in Latin America and the Middle East. Urban rates of the overweight, measured by the body mass index (BMI), are also far higher than those in rural areas. In examining the inter-temporal changes in the entire standardized weight distribution, there are nonetheless many instances where it is not possible to reject the null of non-dominance, especially in rural areas. It is also clear that the distribution of women’s BMIs in most countries is becoming markedly less equitable, and that this increase in univariate inequality is driven largely by the increase in BMIs among overweight and obese women. This is somewhat analogous to the oft discussed “rich get richer” story. That is, the increasing concentration of weight, standardized by heights, among the overweight is driving a significant share of the overall increase in BMI inequality. A related finding is that when I decompose the changes in the prevalence of overweight into the effect of shifts in the mean versus changes in the distribution, in many countries, even holding mean BMI constant, there would be a marked increase in the prevalence of clinically overweight women due to changes in the shape of the BMI distribution.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Christiaensen, L., Demery, L., Paternostro, S.: Growth, distribution and poverty in Africa. Messages from the 1990s. The World Bank Working Paper 2810, Washington, DC (2002)
Datt, G., Ravallion, M.: Growth and redistribution components of changes in poverty measures: A decomposition with applications to Brazil and India in the 1980s. J. Dev. Econ. 38(2), 275–295 (1992)
Davidson, R., Duclos, J.-Y.: Statistical inference for stochastic dominance and for the measurement of poverty and inequality. Econometrica 68(6), 1435–1465 (2000)
Deaton, A., Zaidi, S.: Guidelines for Constructing Consumption Aggregates for Welfare Analysis. Living Standards Measurement Study Working Paper #135. World Bank, Washington, DC (2002)
Dhongde, S.: Measuring the impact of growth and income distribution on poverty in India. Mimeo, Department of Economics. University of California, Riverside (2002)
Griffiths, P.L., Bentley, M.E.: The nutrition transition is underway in India. J. Nutr. 131(10), 2692–2700 (2001)
Kakwani, N: On measuring growth and inequality components of changes in poverty with application to Thailand. Mimeo, School of Economics, The University of New South Wales, Sydney (1997)
Le Grand, J.: Inequalities in health: Some international comparisons. Eur. Econ. Rev. 31(1–2), 182–191 (1987)
Lopez, R., Thomas, V., Wang, Y.: Addressing the education puzzle: The distribution of education and economic reforms. World Bank Working Paper No. 2031. World Bank, Washington, DC (1998)
McCulloch, N., Cherel-Robson, M., Baluch, B.: Growth, inequality and poverty in Mauritania 1987–96. Mimeo, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton (2000)
Murray, C.J.L., Gakidou, E.E., Frenk, J.: Health inequalities and social group differences: What should we measure? Bull. World Health Organ. 77(2), 537–43 (1999)
Popkin, B.: The nutrition transition in low-income countries: An emerging crisis. Nutr. Rev. 52(9), 285–298 (1994)
Popkin, B., Doak, C.M.: The obesity epidemic is a worldwide phenomenon. Nutr. Rev. 56(4 Pt 1), 106–114 (1998)
Pradhan, M., Sahn, D., Younger, S.: Decomposing world health inequality. J. Health Econ. 22(2), 271–293 (2003)
Ravallion, M.: Poverty Comparisons. Harwood Academic, Chur, Switzerland (1994)
Sahn, D.E., Younger, S.D.: Improvements in children’s health: Does inequality matter? J. Econ. Inequality 3(2), 125–143 (2005)
Sen, A.: Commodities and Capabilities. Amsterdam, North Holland (1985)
Sen, A.: The Standard of living: Lecture II, lives and capabilities. In: Hawthorn, G. (ed.) The Standard of Living, pp. 20–38. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1987)
Shorrocks, A., Kolenikov, S.: Poverty trends in Russia During the transition. Mimeo, World Institute of Development Research, Helsinki and University of North Carolina (2001)
Thomas, V., Wang, Y., Fan, X.: Measuring education inequality: Gini coefficients of education. Education Policy Research Working Paper #2525. World Bank, Washington, DC (2000)
World Health Organization (WHO): Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. WHO, Geneva (2003)
World Health Organization (WHO): Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation (2003)
World Health Organization (WHO): Preventing Chronic Diseases: A Vital Investment. WHO, Geneva (2005)
About this article
Cite this article
Sahn, D.E. Weights on the rise: where and for whom?. J Econ Inequal 7, 351–370 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10888-008-9085-0