Income inequality and obesity prevalence among oecd countries

Dejun Su, Omar A. Esqueda, Lifeng Li, José A. Pagán

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using recent pooled data from the World Health Organization Global Infobase and the World Factbook compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, this study assesses the relation between income inequality and obesity prevalence among 31 OECD countries through a series of bivariate and multivariate linear regressions. The United States and Mexico well lead OECD countries in both obesity prevalence and income inequality. A sensitivity analysis suggests that the inclusion or exclusion of these two extreme cases can fundamentally change the findings. When the two countries are included, the results reveal a positive correlation between income inequality and obesity prevalence. This correlation is more salient among females than among males. Income inequality alone is associated with 16% and 35% of the variations in male and female obesity rates, respectively, across OECD countries in 2010. Higher levels of income inequality in the 2005-2010 period were associated with a more rapid increase in obesity prevalence from 2002 to 2010. These associations, however, virtually disappear when the US and Mexico have been excluded from the analysis. Findings from this study underscore the importance of assessing the impact of extreme cases on the relation between income inequality and health outcomes. The potential pathways from income inequality to the alarmingly high rates of obesity in the cases of the US and Mexico warrant further research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-432
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Biosocial Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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