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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid