Open Access Research article

Changes of overweight and obesity in the adult Swiss population according to educational level, from 1992 to 2007

Pedro Marques-Vidal12*, Pascal Bovet1, Fred Paccaud1 and Arnaud Chiolero1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (IUMSP), University Hospital Center (CHUV) and University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

2 Cardiomet, University Hospital Center (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:87  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-87

Published: 22 February 2010



In many high income developed countries, obesity is inversely associated with educational level. In some countries, a widening gap of obesity between educational groups has been reported. The aim of this study was to assess trends in body mass index (BMI) and in prevalence of overweight and obesity and their association with educational level in the adult Swiss population.


Four cross-sectional National health interview surveys conducted in 1992/93 (n = 14,521), 1997 (n = 12,474), 2002 (n = 18,908) and 2007 (n = 17,879) using representative samples of the Swiss population (age range 18-102 years). BMI was derived from self-reported data. Overweight was defined as BMI ≥ 25 and <30 kg/m2, and obesity as BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2.


Mean (± standard deviation) BMI increased from 24.7 ± 3.6 in 1992/3 to 25.4 ± 3.6 kg/m2 in 2007 in men and 22.8 ± 3.8 to 23.7 ± 4.3 kg/m2 in women. Between 1992/3 and 2007, the prevalence of overweight + obesity increased from 40.4% to 49.5% in men and from 22.3% to 31.3% in women, while the prevalence of obesity increased from 6.3% to 9.4% in men and from 4.9% to 8.5% in women. The rate of increase in the prevalence of obesity was greater between 1992/3 and 2002 (men: +0.26%/year; women: +0.31%/year) than between 2002 and 2007 (men: +0.10%/year; women: +0.10%/year). A sizable fraction (~25%) of the increasing mean BMI was due to increasing age of the participants over time. The increase was larger in low than high education strata of the population. BMI was strongly associated with low educational level among women and this gradient remained fairly constant over time. A weaker similar gradient by educational level was apparent in men, but it tended to increase over time.


In Switzerland, overweight and obesity increased between 1992 and 2007 and was associated with low education status in both men and women. A trend towards a stabilization of mean BMI levels was noted in most age categories since 2002. The increase in the prevalence of obesity was larger in low education strata of the population. These findings suggest that obesity preventive measures should be targeted according to educational level in Switzerland.