Middle class more at risk of obesity, says study

Research shows that nutritional transition towards more fat and sugar results in increasing obesity in middle-income families  

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Monday 16 November 2015

A study shows that obesity is related to household income (Credit: iStock images)

A study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, debunks the theory that obesity in children is caused by junk food. By drawing comparisons among three different income groups, it shows that household diet is much to blame for children gaining wieght.

The study conducted on children of hospital staff in New Delhi found that under-nutrition was common among the economically-disadvantaged housekeepers. It also found that while children of doctors tended to be normally nourished, those belonging to nurses were overweight.

Researchers associated with the study analysed the dietary choices and the nutritional status of children of people working in hospitals. A total of 128 people participated in the reasearch from 30 families. Out of this, there were 47 children.

The workers were divided into three groups—housekeeping personnel, nurses and doctors. The selected families were asked to maintain detailed weighed logs of household food consumption and the per capita dietary intake in their households. The nutritional status of the children was also studied.

The outcome

The results showed that 80 per cent of underweight children belonged to the low-income groups (housekeeping staff) and there were no obese children in this group. The majority of obese children belonged to nurses (62.5 per cent). Malnutrition (both under-nutrition and over-nutrition) was least in the families of doctors.

The study found that normal nutrition level was best related to mothers' education and better educated mothers have a better chance of rearing normal-weight children.

As families move up economically, the diet pattern often shifts towards a higher-energy density with a larger role of fat and sugars in food. This nutritional transition is said to be responsible for the increase in the rate of obesity found in lower-income and middle-income countries.

At the household level, the study shows that the same nutritional transition results in increasing obesity in middle-income families.

We have a major problem of under-nutrition, stunting and low intelligence, Jacob Puliyel, who led the study, said. Its prevalence in India is the highest in the world and that is what we need to tackle. “(The) main policy change has to do with raising poverty line as families with povery line income cannot spare enough to eat to prevent malnutrition. If there is less deprivation in the lowest group the problem of obesity on moving up the scale from deprivation may also disappear,” he says.

The study used a group of highly-motivated hospital staff, but the generalisability of the wider community must be tested, the researchers said.

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