The purpose of this paper is to investigate the dependence of health and physical fitness indicators on the socio-economic situation of rural families in Southern Ethiopia, with particular emphasis on the role of inequality. The literature shows mixed results about the effect of inequality on health, and this paper contributes in several ways: it compares the results of objective and subjective health measures, it distinguishes between wealth inequality and nutrition inequality, and it evaluates the impact of nutrition inequality both at the village level and at the household level. The subjective health measures are morbidity (the number of days respondents were ill during the last month) and physical fitness (their ability to walk distances, carry heavy loads, and work in the field). The objective health measure is Body Mass Index (BMI). We found that many effects of explanatory variables were significant in some of the equations but not in all of them. In some cases we even obtained contradictory significant effects. This emphasizes the need not to rely on a single health measure. The results indicate that literacy is negatively associated with morbidity. Per-capita wealth is positively associated with BMI. Availability of satisfactory health facilities is associated positively with physical fitness and negatively with morbidity. Per-capita wealth inequality is associated positively with morbidity and negatively with BMI. Within-household nutrition inequality seems to have a complex association with health: the association is negative with BMI and positive with physical fitness, but only for household members whose nutritional status is above the household mean. While these results should be examined more carefully with regard to possible endogeneity of some of the determinants, they do indicate several variables with a positive association with health and physical fitness. These include literacy, wealth and satisfactory health facilities. The role of inequality is less clear, and certainly deserves further analyses at both the theoretical and empirical levels.


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