Disentangling effects of socioeconomic status on obesity: A cross-sectional study of the Spanish adult population

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This paper complements previous estimations regarding socioeconomic inequalities in obesity for Spanish adults, and provides new evidence about the mechanisms through which socioeconomic status (SES) affects obesity. Microdata from the Spanish National Health Survey (SNHS) 2011–2012 are analysed. Corrected concentration indices (CCI) are calculated to measure inequality. Path analysis is employed to disentangle direct and indirect effects of SES on obesity, where dietary patterns, physical activity and sleep habits act as mediator variables. Multivariate logistic models are used to select those exogenous variables to be included in the path diagram. Men and women are analysed separately. Our results show significant pro-rich inequality in the distribution of obesity (the poorer the more obese), particularly for women (CCI = -0.070 for men, CCI = -0.079 for women). The indirect effects of SES on obesity (those transmitted via mediator variables) are quite modest (3.3% for males, 2.4% for females) due to three reasons. Firstly, dietary habits do not show a significant mediating effect. Secondly, the mediating effect of physical activity in leisure time, although significant (14% for males, 11.1% for females), is offset by that related to main activity. Finally, sleep habits contribution to total effect of SES on obesity is statistically significant but small (roughly 1%). Our results indicate that promoting physical activity in leisure time for those with a low SES, particularly for men, would contribute to prevent obesity and to reduce health inequalities. Promotion of adequate sleep habits for women with a low SES might have a similar effect. However, interventions aimed to reduce sedentarism related to main activity, although useful to prevent obesity, would amplify the obesity socioeconomic gradient. Since effects of SES are different for men and women, socioeconomic health inequalities should be addressed also from a gender perspective.