Obesity in Rural Areas Responsible For Global Weight Gain, Study Suggests

Recent research led by the Imperial College London found that obesity in rural areas is increasing at a faster rate compared to urban areas.

Researchers conducted a large-scale, worldwide analysis of 112 million adults, for the period 1985 to 2017, to assess the changes in body mass index (BMI). The findings showed that BMI increased by 2.0 kg/m2 on average in women and 2.2 kg/m2 in men around the world, which meant weight gain of 5 to 6 kg per person. Furthermore, in the span of 33 years, the increase majorly resulted from rural areas. Rural areas in some emerging economies accounted for 80% of the increase. Cities fared better in comparison with an increase of 1.3 kg/m2 and 1.6 kg/m2 in women and men. The results completely contradict the trends up to 1985 when men and women staying in urban areas in most of the countries had a BMI higher than those in the rural areas.

Senior author Prof. Majid Ezzati from the Imperial’s School of Public Health says, “The results of this massive global study overturn commonly held perceptions that more people living in cities is the main cause of the global rise in obesity. This means that we need to rethink how we tackle this global health problem.” Moreover, the high BMI, especially in women from rural areas in high-income countries indicates low income, low awareness, high cost of healthy foods, and lack of leisure and sports facilities. “Discussions around public health tend to focus more on the negative aspects of living in cities,” Prof. Ezzati adds. “In fact, cities provide a wealth of opportunities for better nutrition, more physical exercise and recreation, and overall improved health. These things are often harder to find in rural areas.”

The exception to the findings were women living in urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa, who gained weight faster than their rural counterparts. Researchers suggest this could result from sedentary lifestyles such as desk jobs, and fewer laborious tasks.