Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Socio-economic, dietary, activity, nutrition and body weight transitions in South Korea

Soo-Kyung Leea1 c1 and Jeffery Sobala2

a1 Department of Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 26 Nichol Avenue, Davison Hall, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-2882, USA

a2 Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 19853, USA


Objective: Socio-economic development influences many factors that affect health, especially diet and nutrition. This investigation proposes that a system of transitions occur as societies develop, with socio-economic, physical activity, dietary, nutrition and body weight transitions operating in relationship with each other. This model of transitions was examined empirically using South Korea as an example of a nation that has undergone considerable changes.

Design: Data were drawn from published government reports: the Korean National Nutrition Survey and annual reports at the national level for the years between 1969 and 1993. The socio-economic transition was assessed by gross national product. The physical activity transition was assessed using annual proportions of the population involved in primary, secondary and tertiary industries, as well as the number of cars and driver's licences. The dietary transition was measured by plant and animal food consumption. The nutrition transition was assessed by percentages of energy from carbohydrate, protein and fat. The body weight transition was measured by body mass index calculated from the average height and weight of adolescents.

Results: Results revealed that the transitions were highly correlated as expected, with the socio-economic transition exhibiting major changes. South Koreans tended to decrease their physical activity and plant food consumption, and to increase animal food consumption, percentage of energy from dietary fat and body weight, in relationship to the socio-economic transition.

Conclusion: Examining a system of transitions on a national level in one country that has undergone rapid economic development may provide a strategy for examining how such transitions operate in other nations.

(Received February 18 2003)

(Accepted May 07 2003)


c1 *Corresponding author: Email