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Int J Epidemiol. 2006 Feb;35(1):131-8. Epub 2005 Nov 12.

Whose socioeconomic status influences a woman's obesity risk: her mother's, her father's, or her own?

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  • 1School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125 Australia. kball@deakin.edu.au



Evidence on the relative influence of childhood vs adulthood socioeconomic conditions on obesity risk is limited and equivocal. The objective of this study was to investigate associations of several indicators of mothers', fathers', and own socioeconomic status, and intergenerational social mobility, with body mass index (BMI) and weight change in young women.


This population-based cohort study used survey data provided by 8756 women in the young cohort (aged 18-23 years at baseline) of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health. In 1996 and 2000, women completed mailed surveys in which they reported their height and weight, and their own, mother's, and father's education and occupation.


Multiple linear regression models showed that both childhood and adulthood socioeconomic status were associated with women's BMI and weight change, generally in the hypothesized (inverse) direction, but the associations varied according to socioeconomic status and weight indicator. Social mobility was associated with BMI (based on father's socioeconomic status) and weight change (based on mother's socioeconomic status), but results were slightly less consistent.


Results suggest lasting effects of childhood socioeconomic status on young women's weight status, independent of adult socioeconomic status, although the effect may be attenuated among those who are upwardly socially mobile. While the mechanisms underlying these associations require further investigation, public health strategies aimed at preventing obesity may need to target families of low socioeconomic status early in children's lives.

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