Socioeconomic status, financial hardship and measured obesity in older adults: A cross-sectional study of the EPIC-Norfolk cohort

Annalijn I. Conklin, Nita G. Forouhi, Marc Suhrcke, Paul Surtees, Nicholas J. Wareham, Pablo Monsivais

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Socioeconomic status is strongly associated with obesity. Current economic circumstances are also independently associated with self-reported weight status in Finnish civil servants. We aimed to examine three types of financial hardship in relation to measured general and central obesity in a general population of older adults, while considering conventional socioeconomic indicators.

Data from 10,137 participants (≥50 years) in the EPIC-Norfolk cohort who responded to a postal Health and Life Experiences Questionnaire (1996–2000) and attended a clinical assessment (1998–2002). Multivariable logistic regression models assessed likelihood of general obesity (BMI ≥30 kg/m2) and central obesity (women: ≥88 cm; men: ≥102 cm) calculated from measured anthropometrics.

Obesity prevalence was consistently patterned by standard socioeconomic indicators, with over-50s in the lowest social class being twice as likely to be obese than those in the highest class (women OR 2.10 [CI95: 1.41—3.13]; men OR 2.36 [1.44—3.87]). After adjustment for socioeconomic status, reporting having less than enough money for one’s needs (compared to more than enough) was associated with obesity in women (OR 2.04 [1.54—2.69]) and men (OR 1.83 [1.34—2.49]). Similar associations were demonstrated between obesity and always or often not having enough money for food/clothing (women OR 1.40 [1.03—1.90]; men OR 1.81 [1.28—2.56]), compared to reporting this never occurred. The strongest independent associations were seen for obesity and reported greatest level of difficulty paying bills (women OR 2.20 [1.37—3.55]; men 2.40 [1.38—4.17]), compared to having no difficulties. Findings for central obesity were slightly higher in women and lower in men.

Obesity in British over-50s was more likely in study participants who reported greater financial hardship, even after education, social class and home ownership were taken into account. Public health policies need to consider the hitherto neglected role of financial hardship in older people, especially difficulty paying bills, as part of strategies to prevent or reduce obesity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1039
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2013


  • Body mass index
  • Waist circumference
  • Anthropometry
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Financial hardship
  • Elderly
  • Healthy ageing
  • EPIC-Norfolk

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