Contrary to established medical research that urbanization has become a leading factor of obesity, a new study has shown that obesity rates are higher in rural regions. It has been hypothesized that people in urban settings are prone to eat more processed and unhealthy foods with sedentary lifestyles.
But a study that has now been published in the Nature journal challenges this, showing obesity to have shot up in rural regions as compared to urban areas.
Researchers from ICL in UK led an international team with over 1000 specialists. 112mn adults from over 200 countries were analyzed during 1985–2017.
Data was sourced from population studies where weight and height measurements were available. BMI calculations were made on this basis to determine if a person was obese or not. Self-reported data was excluded from the study to make it more objective. This revealed that BMI in women had increased by 2 kg/m2 during the study, whereas BMI in men increased by 2.2kg/m2. However, these increases were seen in rural areas, from middle-income and low-income countries that accounted for 80% of BMI rise.
Compared to 1985 rates, people in urban locations have lower obesity rates than rural areas. Based on income factors, BMI increases were noticed in rural locations, especially in women.
The study’s authors estimate that this is due to lack of access to proper education and healthy foods and lower incomes, which are more available to urban populations. Rural communities present in middle and low income-earning countries have had sustained economic growth that allows them access to enhanced transportation and infrastructure. This has decreased people’s physical activity levels and made unhealthy foods available to them.
Sub-Saharan countries were the exception where females from urban locations had BMI levels that were higher, compared to rural areas. This could be explained by the fact that urban women took part in less physically strenuous tasks.
However, the research has shown that a rethink is required on the solutions to tackle this international problem.