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Economic policy and the double burden of malnutrition: cross-national longitudinal analysis of minimum wage and women’s underweight and obesity

  • Annalijn I Conklin (a1) (a2), Ninez A Ponce (a3), Catherine M Crespi (a4), John Frank (a5), Arijit Nandi (a6) and Jody Heymann (a1)...

To examine changes in minimum wage associated with changes in women’s weight status.


Longitudinal study of legislated minimum wage levels (per month, purchasing power parity-adjusted, 2011 constant US dollar values) linked to anthropometric and sociodemographic data from multiple Demographic and Health Surveys (2000–2014). Separate multilevel models estimated associations of a $10 increase in monthly minimum wage with the rate of change in underweight and obesity, conditioning on individual and country confounders. Post-estimation analysis computed predicted mean probabilities of being underweight or obese associated with higher levels of minimum wage at study start and end.


Twenty-four low-income countries.


Adult non-pregnant women (n 150 796).


Higher minimum wages were associated (OR; 95 % CI) with reduced underweight in women (0·986; 0·977, 0·995); a decrease that accelerated over time (P-interaction=0·025). Increasing minimum wage was associated with higher obesity (1·019; 1·008, 1·030), but did not alter the rate of increase in obesity prevalence (P-interaction=0·8). A $10 rise in monthly minimum wage was associated (prevalence difference; 95 % CI) with an average decrease of about 0·14 percentage points (−0·14; −0·23, −0·05) for underweight and an increase of about 0·1 percentage points (0·12; 0·04, 0·20) for obesity.


The present longitudinal multi-country study showed that a $10 rise in monthly minimum wage significantly accelerated the decline in women’s underweight prevalence, but had no association with the pace of growth in obesity prevalence. Thus, modest rises in minimum wage may be beneficial for addressing the protracted underweight problem in poor countries, especially South Asia and parts of Africa.

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