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Int J Epidemiol. 2010 Apr;39(2):392-404. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyp329. Epub 2009 Nov 19.

Comparative appraisal of educational inequalities in overweight and obesity among adults in 19 European countries.

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Department of Public Health, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.



In Western societies, a lower educational level is often associated with a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity. However, there may be important international differences in the strength and direction of this relationship, perhaps in respect of differing levels of socio-economic development. We aimed to describe educational inequalities in overweight and obesity across Europe, and to explore the contribution of level of socio-economic development to cross-national differences in educational inequalities in overweight and obese adults in Europe.


Cross-sectional data, based on self-reports, were derived from national health interview surveys from 19 European countries (N = 127 018; age range = 25-44 years). Height and weight data were used to calculate the body mass index (BMI). Multivariate regression analysis was employed to measure educational inequalities in overweight and obesity, based on BMI. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was used as a measure of level of socio-economic development.


Inverse educational gradients in overweight and obesity (i.e. higher education, less overweight and obesity) are a generalized phenomenon among European men and even more so among women. Baltic and eastern European men were the exceptions, with weak positive associations between education and overweight and obesity. Educational inequalities in overweight and obesity were largest in Mediterranean women. A 10 000-euro increase in GDP was related to a 3% increase in overweight and obesity for low-educated men, but a 4% decrease for high-educated men. No associations with GDP were observed for women.


In most European countries, people of lower educational attainment are now most likely to be overweight or obese. An increasing level of socio-economic development was associated with an emergence of inequalities among men, and a persistence of these inequalities among women.

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