The global obesity pandemic has been well-documented and widely discussed by the public, the media, health officials, the food industry and academic researchers. While the problem is widely recognised, the potential solutions are far less clear. There is only limited evidence to guide decisions as to how best to manage obesity in individuals and in populations. While widely viewed as a clinical and public health problem in developed countries, it is now clear that many developing countries also have to grapple with this problem or face the crippling healthcare costs resulting from obesity-related morbidity. There is also abundant evidence that obesity is socio-economically distributed. In developed countries persons of lower socio-economic position are more likely to be affected, while in developing countries, it is often those of higher socio-economic position who are overweight or obese. The aim of this paper is to briefly review the evidence that links socio-economic position and obesity, to discuss what is known about underlying mechanisms, and to consider the role of social, physical, policy and cultural environments in explaining the relationships between socio-economic position and obesity. We introduce the concept of ‘resilience’ as a potential theoretical construct to guide research efforts aimed at understanding how some socio-economically disadvantaged individuals manage to avoid obesity. We conclude by considering an agenda to guide future research and programs focused on understanding and reducing obesity among those of low socio-economic position.
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