News / Africa

    Education Can Help Prevent Obesity

    University College London where Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi is a Wellcome Trust Fellow. (Credit: UCL)
    University College London where Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi is a Wellcome Trust Fellow. (Credit: UCL)

    Multimedia

    Audio
    • Listen to De Capua report on women, education and obesity

    Joe DeCapua
    In many middle and low income countries, obesity levels rise along with income.  But a new study says the better educated women are -- the better their chances of avoiding obesity.


    Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi is the lead author of the University College London study. She wanted to know if trends in high-income countries could be found elsewhere.

    “We know that in high income countries education and income tend to go together -- and that those who are most educated and have the highest income tend to be thinnest and the opposite being true,” she said.

    The study looked at the middle-income countries of Egypt, Jordan and Colombia – and the low-income countries of Nigeria, India and Benin. These are countries where income levels are on the rise. As a result, women are buying higher calorie foods. Researchers call them energy-dense foods. Simply put, they can pack on the pounds because they’re often laden with sugar, salt and fat. These can be processed foods or so-called fast foods.

    Aitsi-Selmi said, “The study shows that although higher income or higher wealth seems to be correlated with a greater risk of obesity in women in middle income countries – and low income countries as well – in middle income countries something strange happened in that education seemed to start protecting against this effect. So that women with higher education weren’t affected by this wealth effect that made other women more obese.”

    There may be a few explanations for this.

    “It could be that more educated women just have that different body shape preferences. They’re more in contact with Western images of beauty, which promote thinness. It could also be that they have better health understanding – different time preferences – so they kind of invest in future health,” she said.

    But the link between education, wealth and health appears a bit different in low income countries. It may have to do with past economic conditions when many types of high-calorie foods were scarce. The desire for those foods now may outweigh the protective education-effect seen in middle and high income countries.

    “The greater scarcity means that obesity is just not an issue in that kind of environment. Any advantage you might have, socio-economically, where there is higher education or higher wealth, might be used to be able to access a greater quantity of food. And the market isn’t as complex as a middle income county where you have lots of products – and there are lots of decisions to be made. And that’s where education may start to kick in as something that helps consumers to make decisions,” she said.

    Also, low income countries may not have public health systems in place to deal with growing obesity levels. Obesity has been linked to such non-communicable diseases as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    Dr. Aitsi-Selmi said more study is needed on the “interplay between education and the wider environment.”

    She said, “Interventions could target either the education side of things to encourage women’s education or health knowledge. I mean we need to look in more detail in the pathways that link education to obesity. Or it could be to do with the general environment and the kind of information that is in the environment. And that, in some ways, puts those who don’t have education at a disadvantage because the signals coming from the environment might promote unhealthy behaviors like over consumption.”

    That environmental information may include multi-media advertisements, which tell consumers fast food is delicious, cheap and easy to get. They often lack details on the food’s nutritional value.

    Education, she said, can be a good defense against unhealthy food choices.

    “Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. If you understand the risks that are around you and how your decisions affect your health, then you’ll probably make different decisions.”

    Aitsi-Selmi is a Wellcome Trust Fellow at University College London. The study appears in PLOS ONE.

    You May Like

    Clinton, Trump and the 'Woman’s Card'

    Ask supporters of Democratic front-runner in US presidential campaign, and they’ll tell you Republican presidential candidate is playing a dangerous hand

    Russian Censorship Group Seeks Chinese Help to Better Control Internet

    At recent Safe Internet League forum in Moscow, speakers from both nations underscored desire for authorities to further limit and control information online

    Video Makeshift Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Free classes in Islamabad park serve a few of the country’s nearly 25 million out-of-school youths; NGO cites ‘education crisis’

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora