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

Video Anti-Muslim Sponsor of Texas Cartoon Contest Draws Ire

Pamela Geller's supporters say she speaks truth about sensitive topic, while critics say she preaches 'that Islam is inherently evil' More

East Meets West in Exhibition Showing Chinese Influence on Fashion

Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition juxtaposes influence of art, imagery and culture, from Imperial China to the present day, on Western fashion and design More

South Africa Begins New Love Affair With Vinyl Records

Enthusiasts say the 'rebirth' of vinyl is resulting in a rebirth of music in South Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs