Education protects urban women from obesity

Having some sort of formal education might protect urban women in sedentary occupations from becoming obese, a new study reveals.

Research published in the journal BMC Public Health found that females with no education who were working in sedentary jobs were twice as likely to be "centrally obese" - a term that refers to having a larger waist circumference - than women who had no education and were working in agriculture.

Yet among educated women - whether they worked in sedentary occupations or agriculture - there was no such association with obesity, the researchers found.

From rural to urban

The study examined a sample of 2,465 women who were all over 60 years old and participants of the Chinese Four Provinces study.

"China, like a number of other emerging economies, is undergoing a rapid economic transition with many people moving from agricultural to manual and service-based jobs in cities," Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi, lead study author, said in a statement.

As millions of women leave their families of origin to purse career opportunities in urban areas, changes in diet and lifestyle are contributing to a growing obesity problem in China, Aitsi-Selmi said.

The study examined whether educated women were more or less likely to be obese, as well as when they made moves from agricultural to non-agricultural jobs. The research also accounted for dietary patterns, smoking or alcohol consumption.

Education provides 'cognitive skills' for better health decisions

How education and employment affect obesity rates in low- and middle-income countries, the authors explained, is only beginning to be explored.

Dr. Aitsi-Selmi elaborted:

Unlike high-income countries where obesity tends to concentrate in poor women with low levels of education, obesity varies in its pattern depending on which social determinant we look at. This is important because it means we can target interventions to the right groups and it may give us clues as to the mechanisms behind obesity in emerging economies where the food and economic environment is historically unique.

And while education may not be a substitute for good public health systems, the researchers noted, offering women the opportunities for schooling could give them the cognitive skills to make better decisions about nutrition or exercise.

"Our study suggests that investing in women's education may offer a solution by empowering individuals to look after their health," Aitsi-Selmi concluded.

Source: Alpha Galileo Foundation

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