BMI Trends, Socio-Economic Status, and the Choice of Dataset

88 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2009 Last revised: 22 Nov 2009

Date Written: November 12, 2009


This paper is a descriptive investigation of the rise in obesity over the past 30 years. I am especially interested in changes in the Body Mass Index (BMI) across different race, income and education groups. I use micro-level data from the three most popular crosssectional U.S. health data sets, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), from the early 1970s to 2008. The paper provides answers to the following three questions: (1) How does BMI vary with socio-economic status (SES), as measured by education and income, and have these relationships changed over time? (2) How do these relationships differ by gender and race? The use of several large data sets allows a detailed analysis for males/females and whites/blacks/Hispanics. Obesity trends among Hispanics, in particular, have been only incompletely addressed in previous research. (3) How do the NHANES, NHIS and BRFSS differ along key sample attributes and their accounts of obesity trends? Results suggest that disparities between low - and medium-SES groups have almost disappeared, while high-SES groups continue to enjoy an advantage. In terms of BMI trends, Hispanic males are comparable to white and black males, while Hispanic females are in-between white and black females. The three datasets yield different prevalence rates but similar trends.

Keywords: Obesity, BMI, Socio-economic status, Education, Income, NHANES, NHIS, BRFSS

JEL Classification: I10, I12, I20, J15, J16

Suggested Citation

Grabner, Michael, BMI Trends, Socio-Economic Status, and the Choice of Dataset (November 12, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Grabner (Contact Author)

HealthCore, Inc. ( email )

800 Delaware Avenue
Fifth Floor
Wilmington, DE 19801
United States

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