Cross-Country Variation in Obesity Patterns among Older Americans and Europeans

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), this paper analyzes 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 main results are as follows: 1) 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. 2) Part of the difference in obesity prevalence between the U.S. and Europe is explained by a higher fraction of food eaten away from home and notably lower time devoted to cooking in the U.S. 3) Sedentary lifestyle or a lack of vigorous and moderate physical activity may also explain a substantial share of the cross-country differences. 4) Differential SES patterns of energy intake and expenditure across countries cannot fully account for the observed cross-country variation in the SES gradient in obesity.

This paper series was made possible by the NIA funded RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the NICHD funded RAND Population Research Center.

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