Cross-country Variation in Obesity Patterns Among Older Americans and Europeans

Published in: Forum for Health Economics and Policy, v. 10, no. 2, article 8, 2007

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2006

by Pierre-Carl Michaud, Arthur Van Soest, Tatiana Andreyeva

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While the fraction of obese people is not as large in Europe as in the United States, obesity is becoming an important issue in Europe as well. Using comparable data from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and the Health and Retirement Study in the U.S. (HRS), we analyze the correlates of obesity in the population ages 50 and above, focusing on measures of energy intake and expenditure as well as socio-economic status. The authors find that obesity rates differ substantially on both sides of the Atlantic and across European countries, with most of the difference coming from the right tail of the weight distribution. The well-known SES gradient in the prevalence of obesity differs across countries and cannot be fully explained by the variation in food expenditure or physical activity. Obesity is associated with lack of physical activity, calorie intake, time spent on cooking, and time and money spent on eating at home and away from home, but some of these associations vary across countries. More research is needed to analyze why this is the case.

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