At a conference on obesity in Aspen, Colo., last fall, I chatted with a local woman who was in her 50s, I'd say. (Though, on second thought, I know that extreme wealth goes a long way in helping people look younger, so maybe she was in her 60s. And now that I think about it, considering there are $20-million homes in those mountains, I guess she could have been in her 70s.)
Anyway, this great-looking octogenarian and I had just heard a presentation on the growing rates of obesity in the country, and she was truly shocked at the numbers of overweight Americans. "In Aspen," she said with a straight face, "we just don't have obesity."
I walked around town that evening, and, by golly, she was right. Everywhere I looked, nothing but svelte. Now a new comparison of multinational data shows that places like Aspen (let's not forget Beverly Hills) reflect the extreme end of a finding that as women in developed countries go up the education and income ladder, they shed pounds. The findings appear in the latest volume of the "Handbook of Development Economics," edited by USC professor of economics John Strauss. You can see more details in the press release.
In rich countries, wealthier women are better educated, and better-educated women weigh less, researchers found. (But in poor countries where malnutrition is rampant and underweight is a major problem, wealthy, better-educated people weigh more.) In the U.S., the body-mass index starts dropping with increased education early on. Women ages 22 to 75 who have no more than a fifth-grade education have a BMI of about 29. If they get a high school diploma, their BMI drops to about 28 and it starts plummeting with every year of college, to just over 25 if they get a bachelor's degree. For American men, BMI doesn't begin to drop until after the high school diploma is in hand, and even then drops less dramatically than for women.
Multiple studies have shown a link between decreased economic and social resources and higher rates of obesity. A study the Feb. 10 issue of ScienceDaily, for example, found in that addition to being related to individual characteristics, obesity is also related to the average income level of a neighborhood.
So, at long last, could this be the simple solution we've all been waiting for? Want to lose weight? Move to Aspen.
Alicia Silverstone in "Clueless," Photo by Elliott Marks