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Arch Intern Med. 2005 Oct 10;165(18):2122-8.

Income disparities in body mass index and obesity in the United States, 1971-2002.

Author information

  • 1Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Philadelphia VAMC, Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia 19104-6021, USA. vwchang@mail.med.upenn.edu



Although obesity is frequently associated with poverty, recent increases in obesity may not occur disproportionately among the poor. Furthermore, the relationship between income and weight status may be changing with time.


We use nationally representative data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1971-2002) to examine (1) income differentials in body mass index (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters) and (2) change over time in the prevalence of obesity (body mass index, >or=30) at different levels of income.


Over the course of 3 decades, obesity has increased at all levels of income. Moreover, it is typically not the poor who have experienced the largest gains. For example, among black women, the absolute increase in obesity is 27.0% (1.05% per year) for those at middle incomes, but only 14.5% (0.54% per year) for the poor. Among black men, the increase in obesity is 21.1% (0.77% per year) for those at the highest level of income, but only 4.5% (0.06% per year) for the near poor and 5.4% (0.50% per year) for the poor. Furthermore, all race-sex groups show income differentials on body mass index, but patterns show substantial variation between groups and consistency and change within groups over time. For example, white women consistently show a strong inverse gradient, while a positive gradient emerges in later waves for black and Mexican American men.


The persistence and emergence of income gradients suggests that disparities in weight status are only partially attributable to poverty and that efforts aimed at reducing disparities need to consider a much broader array of contributing factors.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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