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Obesity in Prison: A Gender Difference
NIC News & Updates


BJS BMIA 2015 Bureau of Justice Statistics special report, Medical Problems of State and Federal Prisoners and Jail Inmates, highlighted an interesting statistical difference between incarcerated males and females.  The report stated: While female prisoners and jail inmates were less likely than males to be overweight, they were more likely to be obese or morbidly obese.” The numbers showed female prisoners (35%) were less likely than males (47%) to be overweight. However, female (43%) prisoners were more likely than males (27%) to be either obese or morbidly obese.

Two studies on obesity in corrections provide additional data.

The Impact of Incarceration on Obesity: Are Prisoners with Chronic Diseases Becoming Overweight and Obese during Their Confinement? 2015:

  • This study, unlike others, was conducted institution-wide for a 7-year period and found that female offenders were more likely to gain weight and to be overweight or obese compared to male offenders, which raised a number of issues for correctional health, such as the impact that imprisonment may be having on female offenders.
  • Energy intake, programs, and atypical antipsychotic medication may be explanatory for the disparities between female and male offenders; however, there are no indicators that female offenders consume all the food they are provided. In addition to institutionally provided foods, correctional facilities typically have commissaries (markets) where offenders may purchase goods via credit they have earned from working in a correctional facility or funds they have received from an outside source, such as family members or friends. Goods from the commissaries include food items, many of which are processed high sodium and high fat content foods.

Obesity Behind Bars: Study Reveals Intriguing Information about Diet, Exercise Among Prisoners, 2012:

  • The researchers examined 31 studies, including over 60,000 prisoners in 884 institutions in 15 countries and found that female prisoners were 18% more likely to be obese than the general female population in the USA, as were Australian female prisoners.
  • “The evidence suggests that female prisoners are simply supplied with a diet designed for males,” reported the authors of the study (which was led by Dr. Katharine Herbert). “This finding is in accordance with current concerns that prisons are institutions designed by men for men with little concern for the needs of women who form a minority of the global prison population.”


This announcement is available at NIC's Gender-Responsive News for Women and Girls.  Feel free to forward to friends and colleagues.  Subscribe to the newsletter at

For additional resources on Justice-Involved Women go to NIC’s Women Offenders.

Posted Tue, Jul 28 2015 7:31 AM by Susan Powell


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