The relationship between relative deprivation and adult nutritional status in rural Zambia




To explore statistically the relationship between adult short-run nutritional status [body mass index (BMI)] and a measure of relative deprivation [subjective socioeconomic status (SES)] using panel data collected in a developing country where there is a high degree of poverty and a very uneven distribution of income.


Study participants included men and women from a random sample of households located in a rural setting in Zambia. The data were collected during two waves of survey interviews in 2009. A multilevel model was used to estimate the relationship between subjective SES and adult BMI and controlled for individual absolute income as well as other correlates of adult health. The sample size included 254 observations.


A positive relationship was established between individual absolute income and adult BMI at the 1% level. A negative and statistically significant association was found at the 1% level between lower subjective SES and adult BMI. Lower perception of place within the socioeconomic hierarchy was on average associated with a 0.44 decrease in adult BMI.


This study found that, independent of individual absolute income, lower subjective SES was negatively related with adult BMI in rural Zambia. The result provides evidence that lower perception of place within the local socioeconomic hierarchy matters to health. Future studies should continue exploring the relationship between subjective and objective measures of relative deprivation and health in developing countries, where the bulk of the research focuses on material not relative deprivation as a key determinant of individual health. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 2012. © 2012Wiley Periodicals, Inc.