The contribution of urbanization to non-communicable diseases: evidence from 173 countries from 1980 to 2008

Yevgeniy Goryakin, Lorenzo Rocco, Marc Eckart Suhrcke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is widely believed that the expanding burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is in no small part the result of major macro-level determinants. We use a large amount of new data, to explore in particular the role played by urbanization – the process of the population shifting from rural to urban areas within countries – in affecting four important drivers of NCDs world-wide: diabetes prevalence, as well as average body mass index (BMI), total cholesterol level and systolic blood pressure. Urbanization is seen by many as a double-edged sword: while its beneficial economic effects are widely acknowledged, it is commonly alleged to produce adverse side effects for NCD-related health outcomes. In this paper we submit this hypothesis to extensive empirical scrutiny, covering a global set of countries from 1980-2008, and applying a range of estimation procedures. Our results indicate that urbanization appears to have contributed to an increase in average BMI and cholesterol levels: the implied difference in average total cholesterol between the most and the least urbanized countries is 0.40 mmol/L, while people living in the least urbanized countries are also expected to have an up to 2.3 kg/m2 lower BMI than in the most urbanized ones. Moreover, the least urbanized countries are expected to have an up to 3.2 p.p. lower prevalence of diabetes among women. This association is also much stronger in the low and middle-income countries, and is likely to be mediated by energy intake-related variables, such as calorie and fat supply per capita.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151–163
Number of pages13
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Early online date27 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

© Elsevier, 2017. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy


  • BMI
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Non-communicable diseases
  • Urbanization

Cite this