Both body weight and educational attainment have risen in the United States. Empirical evidence regarding educational differences in obesity (BMI ≥30) is inconsistent. According to some widely cited claims, these differences have declined since the 1970s, and the most educated have experienced the greatest gain in obesity. Prior research was limited in grouping college graduates with nongraduates, combining men and women in the same analysis, and using self-reported rather than measured anthropometric information. Using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), we address these issues and examine changing educational differences in obesity from 1971-1980 to 1999-2006 for non-Hispanic whites and blacks in two separate age groups (25-44 vs. 45-64 years). We find that (i) obesity differentials by education have remained largely stable, (ii) compared with college graduates, less educated whites and younger black women continue to be more likely to be obese, (iii) but the differentials are larger for women than men, and weak or nonexistent among black men and older black women. There are exceptions to the overall trend. The obesity gap has widened between the two groups of college-educated younger women, but disappeared between the least and most educated younger white men. Thus, the increase in obesity was similar for most educational groups, but significantly greater for younger women with some college and smaller for younger white men without a high-school degree. Lumping together the two distinct college groups has biased previous estimates of educational differences in obesity.
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