Dutch study links obesity to education level

Dutch study links obesity to education level

The lower the education level of an adult, the higher is the chance that they will develop obesity. Dutch statistics show that 25 percent of the least educated people in the Netherlands are obese, compared to six percent of people with the highest level of education, according to Leefstijlmonitor 2015.

The study was a collaboration between the Central Bureau of Statistics, Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, Voedingscentrum and Pharos Expertisecentrum Gezondheidsverschillen. People voluntarily submitted their height and weight to researchers.

Primary school education

Among adults with at most a primary school education, 65 percent are mildly or seriously overweight. For people with a university education, that number is 35 percent.

For obesity, the difference is more extreme. Adults with no more than an elementary school education are four times more likely to become obese than people with a university education.

Multiple factors influence health

This study did not investigate the causes of obesity. In other words, it does not say that a low education automatically leads to overweight or obesity, or that a university education automatically decreases the chance.

It is most likely a combination of many factors that also have to do with one’s socio-economic background. Geography is another one, as people in the city tend to have less problems with obesity than people living in the countryside.

Chance for overweight increases with age

The older a person gets, the more likely they are to become overweight. Among 4 to 20 year olds, 12 percent are overweight. 60 percent of people over 50 are overweight in the Netherlands.

The same trend is true for obesity. For 4 to 20 year olds, less than five percent are obese. For people over 40, it’s 17 percent.

Twice as many obese since 1980s

Since 1981, the number of Dutch 20 years or older that are considered obese has doubled. During the last decade the increase has slowed somewhat, and the numbers for 2014 and 2015 are very similar.

Body Mass Index

The CBS defines obesity as having a BMI of 30 or higher, while a BMI of 25 to 30 is considered mildly overweight. The ideal BMI is between 18,5 and 25. For people younger than 20, the limits are different.

The Netherlands follows global trend

Around the world, more people are now obese than underweight, according to the largest study ever conducted of worldwide trends in body mass index.

According to British medical journal The Lancet which recently published the results of the study, over the course of 40 years obesity rates have increased 2,6 times.

The number of obese people worldwide increased from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014. Almost 13 percent of the global population is now considered obese, compared with just over 9 percent who are underweight.

Thomas Lundberg


Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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