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

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), we analyze 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. We find that 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. The well-known SES gradient in the prevalence of obesity differs across countries and cannot be fully explained by the variation in food expenditure or physical activity. Obesity is associated with lack of physical activity, calorie intake, time spent on cooking, and time and money spent on eating at home and away from home, but some of these associations vary across countries. More research is needed to analyze why this is the case.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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