Background: By use of a publically available database, the effects of education and geography on obesity as measured by body mass index (BMI) were evaluated with a quantile regression approach. The focus of the analysis was on the practical interpretation of the regression results to inform health policy decision makers about the importance of educational attainment for the growing public health issue of obesity in the US, particularly in the Southeast.

Methods: With data from the 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), quantile regressions were employed to estimate the educational effect on BMI while controlling for relevant lifestyle, socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic factors.

Results: The findings indicate that education is important, for college graduates have lower BMIs, regardless of their relative weight distribution. Persons with college educations and annual incomes of more than $50,000 had lower BMIs than those without college education and lower income. Also, after controlling for relevant lifestyle, socioeconomic, and demographic factors such as physical activity, education, and income, regional variations are evident. There are higher BMI levels in the South as compared to other regions in the US.

Conclusions: For obesity, there are underlying causes and contributing factors, such as educational attainment and the related factor, income, that are not always considered as high priorities for addressing obesity issues. The focus has typically been on lifestyle choices, such as eating habits and physical activity. The present findings promote efforts for ensuring college education for young people to address various public health issues, including obesity. Further, econometric analysis of secondary databases could lead to a better understanding for policy makers in regard to allocation of resources to address educational attainment, recognizing its effect on public health issues such as obesity.

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