London: Education and increasing awareness are protecting poor women in developing nations, including India, from the fattening effects of rising wealth, a new research shows.
Obesity levels among women in low and middle-income countries tend to rise in line with wealth as they purchase more energy-dense foods.
Researchers at the University College London suggest that more educated consumers make better food choices that mitigate this effect.
The study showed that in middle-income countries, obesity levels among women with secondary or higher education are 14-19 percent lower than less-educated women of similar wealth.
"The study suggests that investing in women's education protects against this effect by empowering individuals to look after their health," said lead author Amina Aitsi-Selmi, a Wellcome Trust Fellow at the university.
However, it is not a substitute for good public health system and the regulation of commercial activities that puts pressure on individuals to consume unhealthy products and take unnecessary risk with their health, she added.
In three low-income countries - India, Nigeria and Benin - the relationship between education and wealth was more difficult to unpick.
In India, where only 2.8 percent of the 113,063 women surveyed were obese, wealth had a profound impact on the risk of obesity.
For each increase in wealth bracket, the risk of obesity increased by 123 percent.
The research looked at the relationship between obesity, education and wealth in over 250,000 people across four middle-income and three low-income countries.
The middle-income countries examined were Egypt, Jordan, Peru and Colombia.
Each household's wealth index was measured by evaluating their possessions, housing situation and access to basic amenities.
"For the first time, we have studied the interaction between wealth and education and found that they have fundamentally different effects on obesity," Aitsi-Selmi said.
"The jump in obesity risk that people in low-income countries experience as they become wealthier is likely related to the environment of scarcity," said the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.