(NPR) — A new study found more than 55% of the global rise in obesity comes from rural areas.
With the exception of women in sub-Saharan Africa, BMI is rising in rural areas as fast as, or faster, than in cities.
The conventional wisdom is that city life makes you fat and rural life keeps you trim. A new study looks at the numbers to see if that holds true.
A new paper in the May 8 journal Nature has shattered the preconceived notions of urban versus rural body types. More than 1,000 researchers representing the Non-Communicable Disease Coalition analyzed 2,009 studies of more than 112 million adults from 200 countries. In the most comprehensive analysis of urban/rural weight gain to date, they assessed changes in body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight, between 1985 and 2017.
A healthy BMI for both male and female adults is 18.5 to 24.9. Overweight is a BMI of 25 to 29.9. And obesity is a BMI of 30 and above. The study found that global averages are creeping up for everyone — but faster for rural residents. The global average BMI for women rose in the past three decades by 2.09 in rural women compared to 1.35 to in urban women; in that same period, it rose by 2.10 in rural men compared to 1.59 in urban men.
The researchers found that more than 55 percent of the global rise in obesity comes from rural areas. With the exception of women in sub-Saharan Africa, BMI is rising in rural areas as fast as or faster than in cities.
To be fair, there were logical reasons for what turned out to be a false assumption. “This rise in BMI has happened over a period of a few decades when the world has been rapidly urbanizing,” says Majid Ezzati, chair in global environmental health at the Imperial College London and lead author of the study. “So there was a widely stated assumption that urbanization is the main driver of the obesity epidemic. Our aim was to shed light on this.”