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Social class, gender, and time use: Implications for the social determinants of body weight?

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by Lindsay McLaren, Jenny Godley and Ian A.S. MacNairn

Abstract
Keywords
Findings
Authors
What is already known on this subject?
What does this study add?

Abstract

Background

The social gradient in body weight (for example, obesity) departs from the social gradient in other health outcomes.  Innovative approaches are needed to understand the observed patterns. This study examines time-use patterns by indicators of socio-economic position, and considers the implications of variations in time use for the social gradient in weight reported in other studies.

Data and methods

The data are from respondents aged 25 to 64 to Canada’s 1986 and 2005 General Social Surveys, which focused on time use.  Participation in various activities was examined by sex, and by personal income and education, stratified by sex, in both years.

Results

Higher-income men and women were more likely than those of lower income to spend time in paid work, commuting and eating out, and less likely to spend time sleeping.  Men and women with higher education were more likely than those with lower education to spend time in physical activity (2005 only) and reading.  These time-use patterns plausibly contribute to the social gradient in obesity reported in other Canadian studies.

Interpretation

The findings suggest that there is value in looking beyond a narrow range of health behaviours toward broader measures of daily routines to gain insight into the social determinants of weight and health

Keywords

gender, obesity, population, social class, time use, trends

Findings

The social gradient in health refers to the consistent association between socio-economic position and health status, whereby higher socioeconomic position is associated with better health status across an array of health outcomes. The social gradient in body weight (body mass index (BMI), obesity) departs from this consistent pattern. Sex differences are apparent, with an inverse association (higher socio-economic positon— lower BMI) more prominent for women than men. Further differences by indicator of socio-economic position are evident; for example, recent Canadian data show a positive association with income for men (that is, higher income—higher likelihood of overweight/obesity) that is not observed in women, while an inverse association between education and overweight/obesity has been observed for both women and (less consistently) for men. [Full text]

Authors

Lindsay McLaren (1-403-210-9424; lmclaren@ucalgary.ca) is with the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary, 3330 Hospital Dr. NW, Calgary AB, T2N 4N1; Jenny Godley is with the Department of Sociology; and at the time of writing, Ian A.S. MacNairn was in the Bachelor of Health Sciences Program at the University of Calgary.

What is already known on this subject?

  • The social gradient in body weight departs from the social gradient in other health outcomes, showing variation by sex and by aspect of socio-economic position.
  • Studies of the social gradient in weight have tended to focus on health behaviours with obvious links to body weight.
  • The period during which obesity prevalence has risen has been characterized by social changes that may not be captured by a narrow range of health behaviours.

What does this study add?

  • Higher-income men and women were more likely than those with lower incomes to spend time in paid work, eating out and commuting, and less likely to spend time sleeping.
  • Men and women with university degrees were more likely than those who were not university graduates to spend time in physical activity and reading.
  • The findings demonstrate the value of adopting a broader view of lifestyle in research on the social drivers of health outcomes; time-use data offer a useful tool for this task.