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

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    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.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora