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Living in rural areas no longer guarantees a slimmer figure

Up until a few years ago, excess weight and obesity was largely seen as a problem associated with towns and cities. However, a recent study shows that the obesity epidemic now affects people living in rural areas, and even tends to be more pronounced there than in urban districts. 

Researchers from London Imperial College recently published their findings from a study carried out on the global development of weight in the trade journal Nature. They evaluated body mass index (BMI) data of 112 million adults recorded in 200 countries between 1985 and 2017, and found that the percentage increase of persons with excess weight and/or obesity had risen dramatically in rural regions.

During the period under review, the average BMI of women worldwide had risen from 22.6 kg/m2 to 24.7 kg/m2 and the figure for men had climbed from 22.2 kg/m2 to 24.4 kg/m2. This development was seen to be associated primarily with changes in the weight of people living in rural areas. Whereas the average increase in BMI during the observation period was 1.4 kg/m2 for women and 1.6 kg/m2 for men, there was a rise of 2.1 kg/m2 for both men and women living in rural areas. This trend is now also evident in medium- and low-income countries. Whereas there were still significant differences in the BMI figure between the rural and urban populations living throughout the regions of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean back in 1985, this gap has fallen by approx. 40% in many areas over the past three decades. Meanwhile, observations around the globe testify to an equal rise in the BMI figure, irrespective of whether the person lives in a city or in the countryside. Indeed, the figure seems to be increasing more among rural dwellers. By contrast, the BMI value among the population of western industrial nations living in rural districts is higher in many areas than for those who live in towns.

Whereas the rural population of developing and newly industrialised countries are currently benefiting from the economic development, an improved healthcare system and the technical progress in agriculture, the rise in the BMI witnessed in industrialised countries reflects the social inequalities between the rural and urban regions. Apart from the lower level of education and healthcare awareness, an increase in weight is partly due to having less disposable income. This fact is compounded by structural deficits. Inadequate infrastructure results in many journeys having to be made by car rather than travelling by bike or walking distances. There is often a lack of sports and leisure facilities, too, that promote an active lifestyle. Ultimately, it is a mix of these as well as other factors which contribute towards an adverse development.

In view of the global spread of excess weight and obesity, the studies reveal that there needs to be a greater focus on rural areas in industrial countries. This not only involves political decisions being made, but also points towards measures being taken in direct, preventive and therapeutic healthcare. If this development is not brought under control, there is a real risk that the socio-economic and health inequality between urban and rural regions will rise even further.

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