Landscape with Farmer

Urbanization Causes Obesity? Not Exactly

It’s a familiar theme. Urbanization is spreading obesity around the world in low and middle income countries. And the implication is that urbanization has already done damage to higher income countries like the U.S. But like most familiar themes of obesity, this one doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Rural Obesity Soaring in the U.S.

Published yesterday in JAMA, two new CDC research papers tells us that severe obesity is moving very fast in rural communities. Among rural men, severe obesity has tripled since 2001. It has doubled among rural women, and risen by 29% among rural youths. By 2016, severe obesity prevalence for rural men was more than twice the urban rate. For women and youth it was just a bit less than double the urban rate.

Weil Cornell’s Rekha Kumar noted the disconnect with typical thinking about urbanization’s effects:

When looking at the global epidemic of obesity, we ironically often blame urbanization as a factor due to urban centers having more fast food locations, a pace of life where there is less emphasis on family meals, and work environments that are not physically taxing.

These data sound a cautionary note. Obesity might rise in association with urbanization. But that doesn’t mean urbanization itself is the cause. This puzzle has many moving pieces. We are far from putting all those pieces together.

Click here and here for the new studies in JAMA. For more perspective from Reuters, click here.

Landscape with Farmer, painting by Henri Rousseau / WikiArt

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June 20, 2018