More Women Fat Than Underfed Around World - Study

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many more women around the world are overweight than underfed, even in poor countries and rural areas, according to a report published on Tuesday.

Overall, 32 percent of urban women in 36 countries were overweight compared to 9 percent of rural women who were underweight, the study found.

"The prevalence of overweight among young women in the developing world has reached an alarming state," the U.S. and Brazilian researchers wrote in this week's issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Michelle Mendez and Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina and Carlos Monteiro of Sao Paulo University collected data on body mass index, a measurement of height versus weight, from nearly 150,000 women aged 20 to 49 in the three dozen countries.

A BMI of 18.5 or lower was taken as underweight, according to international standards, while a BMI of 25 or above was overweight. A person 5 feet 5 inches tall has a BMI of 18.5 at 108 pounds and a BMI of 25 at 150 pounds.

Consistently, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, many more women, urban and rural, were overweight than underweight.

Among more than 3,300 women in Kenya, 28 percent of urban women and 15 percent of rural women were overweight, while 7 percent of urban women and 12 percent of rural women were underweight.

"The exception was India, where very high prevalences of undernutrition persist (23.1 percent of urban and 48.2 percent of rural women)," the researchers wrote.

"Whereas overweight in urban areas has been widely acknowledged, these data indicate that the burden in rural areas is also substantial. Half of the countries surveyed had a 20 percent prevalence of overweight in their rural areas."

In the developed world, many more women are overweight. In the United States more than 60 percent of women are overweight and 33 percent are obese, and thus at serious risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers.

"The results of this study suggest that, in the absence of policies to shift current trends, continued economic development and urbanization in developing countries will likely be accompanied by increased prevalences of overweight in both rural and urban settings," Mendez's team wrote.