World Facts

The World's Thinnest Countries

Six nations of Africa and four nations of Asia feature in the list of the countries with the lowest average BMI among adults in the world.

Body mass index (BMI) can be measured by three categories: underweight, overweight, and obese. An Ideal BMI is characterized as being between 18.5 to 25. One is considered underweight if their BMI is 18.5 or below. Being underweight can be brought about by a lack of balanced diet and unhealthy eating habits. Being underweight is often prevalent in countries experiencing poverty and poor healthcare.

1. Eritrea

Eritrea remains one of the countries worst hit by famine and drought. Three-quarters of Eritreans have been affected by the lack of food and water in the country, and inadequate rains in the past years has led to the failure of successive harvests. As a result, many people are struggling to survive. Cereal prices have soared while livestock continues to die. 1.4 million people in the country are food insecure with women and children most affected. The civil unrest in the country is also a contributing factor to the lack of productivity. The relief donations distributed by the international bodies such as FAO, UKAID, and USAID are not sufficient to meet the growing demand. As a result, the majority of the adults are underweight with an average BMI of 20.5 kg/m2, the lowest in the world.

2. Ethiopia

Ethiopia is hard hit by hunger, malnutrition, poor sanitation, and high infant mortality. Ethiopia is the second most malnourished country in the world and among the top ten poorest. There is not enough food to feed the country’s large population. Obesity is not common in the country. The majority of adults in the Ethiopia are severely underweight with an average BMI of 20.6km/m2. The rural population is the worst hit by malnutrition due to the lack of access to a balanced diet. Ethiopian men have the lowest BMI among the world’s men population averaging about 21.1kg/m2. The government of Ethiopia is striving to reverse the statistics by encouraging agriculture and reducing the poverty levels.

3. Burundi

Burundi was rated as the world’s leading country affected by hunger in 2014 according to the Global Hunger Index. The political violence and the natural disasters that have plagued the country have accelerated the rate of malnutrition in the country. The hunger situation in Burundi has been labeled “extremely alarming” with over 67% of the population suffering from undernutrition. The rising cost of food has made it difficult for most households to access food. Although women and children have been exposed to risks for diseases caused by malnutrition, men are also affected. The majority of adults are underweight with the country’s average adults BMI at 20.9kg/m2.

4. Bangladesh

Malnutrition in Bangladesh is still alarming despite the efforts by the government and the international agencies. 25% of adult women are unhealthy with about 50 million people in the country unable to obtain food and proper shelter. Poverty and food insecurity are both causes of malnutrition within the country. The country’s diet has the lowest non-starchy food of all the countries indicating poor nutrition and diet diversification. The low household incomes have also contributed to the poor nutrition in the country. The effect of malnutrition has led to a BMI average of 21.0 kg/m2 in adults.

5. Madagascar

Madagascar is fifth in the world regarding the number of underweight children. A quarter of the Madagascan population lives in areas prone to natural disasters such as floods and drought. The majority of the rural population (36%) suffers from food insecurity and malnutrition. The poor land management and deforestation have only worsened the situation in the country with most of the adults suffering from being underweight. The average adult body mass index in Madagascar is 21.1 kg/m2. The exposure to diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS have also been contributors.

6. East Timor

Like the majority of the Southeast Asian countries, East Timor’s diet is comprised of the local pork, fish, basil, legumes, root vegetables, and tropical fruits. Overweight and obesity have remained extremely low at about 5%. However, the number is also due to the widespread malnutrition in the country, particularly in rural areas. Access to water, food, and healthcare has been a challenge for the majority of the East Timorese. The country’s average BMI in 2014 stood at 21.1 kg/m2 among the adult population, the second lowest in Asia after Bangladesh. East Timorese adult women have the lowest BMI in the world at 20.8 kg/m2. More than a fifth of men and a quarter of women in the country are underweight.

7. Afghanistan

About 2.5 million residents of Afghanistan are facing hunger, especially in areas experiencing severe drought. The Northern provinces have been affected by the persistent drought that has reduced productivity leading to widespread famine in the country. Malnutrition is a problem that is most prevalent among women and children. Although men are also experiencing hunger, the rate of malnutrition is not as high as the levels experienced by women and children. The average BMI is 21.6 kg/m2, one of the lowest in Asia. War in the country has contributed to limited access to food and water.

8. Vietnam

In Vietnam, government funding of health care is extremely low leading to the shortage of basic health facilities and doctors. Much of the population does not have access to vital health information. Malnutrition is widespread, especially in rural areas where there is a severe shortage of food. Women and children are the most hit by the effects of malnutrition with high infant mortality rate. Vietnamese adults have an average BMI of 21.6 kg/m2. The government of Vietnam has initiated measures such as food distribution and improvement of healthcare to meet the growing demand for food.

9. Niger

Malnutrition is widespread in Niger. Adults in Niger have a BMI of 21.7 kg/m2, one of the lowest in Africa. The situation has been made worse by severe drought and food insecurity. Food prices have soared, making it almost impossible for the households to afford a meal.

10. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

North Koreans are starving according to the Food and Agricultural Organization. The country does not produce enough food to feed the over 24 million people with the majority relying on the limited purchase of food and donations. About 16 million North Koreans are reported to rely on twice-a-month rations. The government has no long-term structural reforms that will spur economic growth. Scores of children and adults are dying in rural areas due to lack of quality food and clean water. The hospitals are also under-equipped to meet the growing demand. The malnutrition has had a long-lasting effect on the population, especially the adults who tend to be underweight with an average BMI of 21.8 kg/m2. The UN has called for donations to help feed the hungry in the country and to mitigate the effects of malnutrition.

Which Are The Thinnest Countries In The World?

RankCountryAverage BMI, 2014
1Eritrea20.5
2Ethiopia20.6
3Burundi20.9
4Bangladesh21.0
5Madagascar21.1
6East Timor21.2
7Afghanistan21.6
8Vietnam21.6
9Niger21.7
10Democratic People’s Republic of Korea21.8

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