Sociodemographic and cultural factors of adult obesity in El Salvador: an exploratory cross-sectional study

Main Article Content

Aaron L. Owen
Cecilia M. Suazo, MD, MPH


Background/objectives: The purpose of this study was to explore the sociodemographic and cultural factors associated with adult obesity in El Salvador, a country that has rapidly shifted from food insecurity to obesity as a primary health risk.

Subjects/methods: Using face-to-face interviews and a food frequency questionnaire, we interviewed a convenience sample of 180 Salvadorans who identified their dietary habits, perceived nutritional value of food items, and other factors influencing consumption.

Results: Obesity (BMI ≥30) was exhibited by 27.3% of participants, and another 41.1% were overweight (BMI 25-30). These results spanned all levels of socioeconomic status. Obesity prevalence, however, was only 18.5% in the most rural area. Obesity increased with age and was almost twice as prevalent in women as in men. Within the occupational subgroup of traditional market vendors, we observed an obesity prevalence of 39.8% as compared with 17.6% prevalence in non-vendors, indicating that in addition to these merchants’ relative inactivity, the traditional market has actually become an obesogenic food environment. When asked to describe their dietary decisions, participants overwhelmingly pointed to personal preference and nutritional value as being very influential, while downplaying the effect of cost, convenience, tradition and advertising.

Conclusions: With the growing trends of globalization, urbanization, and industrialization, population-based approaches will be necessary to stem the rise in obesity. When setting priorities for such policy measures, precautions must be taken to not exacerbate preexisting health disparities.

Article Details

adult obesity, El Salvador
Original Research
How to Cite
Owen, A. L., & Suazo, C. M. (2014). Sociodemographic and cultural factors of adult obesity in El Salvador: an exploratory cross-sectional study. The Columbia University Journal of Global Health, 4(2), 7–10.