Countries in the developing world have seen an influx of obesity recently, yet those who are severely malnourished have been left out of this weight-gain momentum. A joint study from the University of Toronto and the Harvard School of Public Health shows that in low- and middle-income countries as diverse as Bangladesh, Guatemala, Kenya, Peru and Turkey, the obese and overweight residents are gaining weight rapidly while undernourished residents remain undernourished.
“One might think that as a country grows economically, the majority of the underweight population would move into the average BMI range,” said lead study author Fahad Razak. “But our study shows the opposite: People of average weight are disappearing.”
It’s a problem that’s going to pose a major challenge for government and public health leaders, he added.
“They will need to balance their priorities between addressing health issues afflicting the underweight who happen to be poor, and health issues afflicting the obese and overweight – the upper middle-class and rich.”
It’s quite a different story than in the United States, where poverty increases one’s likelihood to be overweight.
The study uses information collected in population & health surveys conducted between 1991 and 2008. Researchers analyzed the body mass indexes of 730,000 women from 37 developing countries and found that the number of women considered overweight or obese is rising way faster than the decline in underweight or malnourished women.
“For the first time we are showing that increases in BMI are not happening equally across the board,” said S.V. Subramanian, a Harvard professor and senior author of the study. “This divergence in the population with fat getting fatter and lean remaining lean is aligned with general patterns of divergence on other domains such as income, and wealth, which of course, are primary drivers of weight status in these countries.”