Countries By Obesity

Like malnutrition and underweight, obesity is a global health problem and one of the leading causes of health complications. The majority of the global population lives in countries where obesity and overweight kill more than malnutrition and underweight. Since 1975, the number of obese globally has almost tripled as per the WHO report. In 2016, over 650 million adults, 18 years or older were obese. In 2019, 38 million children below the age of five were either obese or overweight.

Contents: 

What Is Obesity?

Obesity is a medical condition resulting from an accumulation of excess fat in the body. When one takes in more calories than they burn by normal daily activities or exercise, the excess calories accumulate in the body, leading to obesity. However, people are only described as obese if their body mass index (BMI) is over 30. People with a BMI of 25-30 are described as overweight. The excess fat in the body exposes one to serious health problems and diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, and certain cancers.

Regional Differences In Obesity

Obesity is responsible for close to 5 million deaths annually, or 8% of the global deaths (2017), representing a 3.5% increase from 4.5% in 1990. However, the proportion varies across different continents. In 2017, over 15% of the deaths were attributed to obesity across North Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Central Asia because of its high prevalence.

Oceania is the world’s most obese region, with 8 of the top ten most obese countries globally located in the region. In the eight Oceania countries, obesity is so prevalent that more than 45% of the population is above the red line. The high rate of obesity in the region is attributed to a sedentary lifestyle and cultural factors, such as lack of proper public education on health and diet.

Most of the least obese countries are located in South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa regions. In most of these countries, less than 10% of the adults are obese. The obesity rate is particularly lower in low and middle-income countries where malnutrition and access to food remain a major challenge. However, in some high-income countries like Singapore and South Korea, specific policy interventions are bearing fruits. For instance, South Korea allocates a budget to support obesity programs and nutritional management in schools.

10 Most Obese Countries

The world's most obese countries
The 10 Most Obese Countries In The World

Nauru, an island country in the Oceania region, is the world’s most obese country, with 61% of the adult population suffering from obesity. The country has an average BMI of 34-35. Additionally, up to 83% of Nauruan are overweight. Importation of large quantities of Western foods, lack of physical exercise, cultural preference for overweight and obesity, and lack of proper health education are some of contributing factors to the country’s high obesity rate.

55.3% of Palau’s adult population are obese, making Palau the world’s second-most obese country. The country’s obesity prevalence is higher for both men and women than the regional average. 58.8% and 51.8% of adult women and men respectively are obese. A sedentary lifestyle and inadequate health education and diet are the main contributing factors to Palau's high obesity rate.

Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Tonga complete the list of the five most obese countries. In the Marshall Islands, 52.9% of the adult population are obese, while in Tuvalu and Tonga, the proportion of the obese is 51.6% and 48.2% respectively. The diets of these three island countries comprise mainly imported processed food rich in high sugar. Besides, most of these Island countries do not provide proper education on health and diet, nor highlight the need for physical exercise. The other three Oceania countries with a high proportion of the obese population are Samoa (47.3%), Kiribati (46%), and the Federal State of Micronesia (45.8%).

Kuwait is Asia’s fattest country and the world’s 9th most obese country, with 37.9% of its population suffering from obesity. The risk of obesity in the country results from a sedentary lifestyle and overeating high-fat, energy-dense foods. The United States is the most obese country in the Americas and the world’s 10th fattest, with 36.2% of its population having a BMI of over 30. Lack of physical exercise is a major contributing factor to the country’s obesity epidemic. High caloric intake is also linked to a high obesity rate.

10 Least Obese Countries

10 least obese countries
The 10 Least Obese Countries In The World

Vietnam is the least obese country, with only 2.1% of the adult population suffering from obesity. The country’s low ranking is a result of a combination of socioeconomic and cultural factors. Vietnamese mainly feed on local cuisine, which is mostly organic, with a lower level of oil. However, economic factors, such as long working hours and malnutrition, also contribute to the low ranking.

Bangladesh is the second-skinniest country, with obesity affecting only 3.6% of its adult population. However, the prevalence of obesity in the country is much higher in women than men. It is also one of the countries struggling with underweight and obesity, especially among adolescent children. Like Vietnamese, the Bangladeshi population depends on local cuisine, which is much healthier than imported, processed food. The population, especially men, are also more active.

3.8% of East Timor’s adult population are suffering from obesity, making it the third-least obese country. The country has a serious food deficit, with 27% of its residents suffering from food deprivation. Therefore, East Timor’s lower-ranking results from lack of access to food and not better-eating habits.

India, the world’s second-most populous country, has one of the lowest obesity rates, with only 3.9% of its adult population suffering from obesity. Most parts of the country are recovering from malnutrition and lack of access to food. Also, genetic factors are responsible for the country’s skinniness. However, India is slowly becoming more obese due to the rising middle class and unhealthy eating habits.

Cambodia, Nepal, Japan, and South Korea are the other four Asian countries on the list of ten least obese countries. In Cambodia, 3.9% of the adults are obese, while the proportions in Nepal and Japan are 4.1% and 4.3% respectively. In South Korea, 4.7% of the adult population is obese. About 80 of Cambodia’s population live in rural areas, where agriculture is the main economic activity. Therefore, the majority depend on food from the farm, which is much healthier than processed, high-sugar food. In Nepal, the lower ranking result from challenges in accessing food, especially for those living in remote areas.

Japanese are some of the world's healthiest people. An average adult consumes about 200 fewer calories than an American. Their traditional food also features less meat, more fish, and plenty of vegetables. They are also more active, which helps them in reducing the risk of becoming obese. South Korea also practices healthy eating habits, with its diet receiving considerable attention. Besides diet, Koreans have also invested in proper health education and supports local government in their obesity programs. The government also ensures that school diets and nutritious and healthy.

Ethiopia and Eritrea are the least obese countries in Africa. Only about 4.5% of adult Ethiopians are suffering from obesity, making it the world’s 8th least obese country. In Eritrea, only 5% of the adult population are obese. Eritrea and Ethiopia are some of the countries in Africa struggling with malnutrition and underweight. Undernutrition remains prevalent, especially in rural areas, where the majority live, due to the burden of famine. 

Measuring Obesity

World Obesity Day
World Obesity Day is celebrated every year on March 4 to raise awareness about the need to curb obesity for a healthier living. Image credit: World Obesity Federation, Wikimedia Commons

BMI is the most common matrix for assessing obesity in adults. It is also used to classify individuals as overweight or underweight. BMI is calculated by diving an individual’s weight (kg) by the square of his height. For instance, a person weighing 65 kilos and is 1.5 meters tall will have a BMI of 28.9, meaning they are overweight but not obese.

An individual with a BMI of over 30 is considered obese. Therefore, 51 countries are considered either overweight or obese because they have a BMI of at least 25. Of the 51 countries, 22 are obese. 75 countries are underweight (BMI less than 18.5), while 64 countries are considered healthy, with a BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9. 

Rank

Country

% of population that is obese

1

Nauru

61

2

Palau

55.3

3

Marshall Islands

52.9

4

Tuvalu

51.6

5

Tonga

48.2

6

Samoa

47.3

7

Kiribati

46

8

Federated States Of Micronesia

45.8

9

Kuwait

37.9

10

United States

36.2

11

Jordan

35.5

12

Saudi Arabia

35.4

13

Qatar

35.1

14

Libya

32.5

15

Turkey

32.1

16

Egypt

32

17

Lebanon

32

18

United Arab Emirates

31.7

19

The Bahamas

31.6

20

New Zealand

30.8

21

Iraq

30.4

22

Fiji

30.2

23

Bahrain

29.8

24

Canada

29.4

25

Australia

29

26

Malta

28.9

27

Mexico

28.9

28

Argentina

28.3

29

South Africa

28.3

30

Chile

28

31

Dominica

27.9

32

Uruguay

27.9

33

Syria

27.8

34

United Kingdom

27.8

35

Dominican Republic

27.6

36

Algeria

27.4

37

Oman

27

38

Tunisia

26.9

39

Hungary

26.4

40

Suriname

26.4

41

Lithuania

26.3

42

Israel

26.1

43

Morocco

26.1

44

Czechia

26

45

Iran

25.8

46

Costa Rica

25.7

47

Andorra

25.6

48

Venezuela

25.6

49

Ireland

25.3

50

Vanuatu

25.2

51

Bulgaria

25

52

Greece

24.9

53

Jamaica

24.7

54

Cuba

24.6

55

El Salvador

24.6

56

Belarus

24.5

57

Croatia

24.4

58

Belize

24.1

59

Ukraine

24.1

60

Spain

23.8

61

Nicaragua

23.7

62

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

23.7

63

Latvia

23.6

64

Montenegro

23.3

65

Barbados

23.1

66

Norway

23.1

67

Poland

23.1

68

Russia

23.1

69

Saint Kitts and Nevis

22.9

70

Haiti

22.7

71

Panama

22.7

72

Luxembourg

22.6

73

Romania

22.5

74

Solomon Islands

22.5

75

Colombia

22.3

76

Germany

22.3

78

Finland

22.2

79

Belgium

22.1

80

Brazil

22.1

81

Iceland

21.9

82

Cyprus

21.8

83

Albania

21.7

84

Georgia

21.7

85

France

21.6

86

Serbia

21.5

87

Honduras

21.4

88

Grenada

21.3

89

Papua New Guinea

21.3

90

Estonia

21.2

91

Guatemala

21.2

92

Kazakhstan

21

93

Portugal

20.8

94

Mongolia

20.6

95

Sweden

20.6

96

Slovakia

20.5

97

Netherlands

20.4

98

Paraguay

20.3

99

Armenia

20.2

100

Bolivia

20.2

101

Guyana

20.2

102

Slovenia

20.2

103

Austria

20.1

104

Azerbaijan

19.9

105

Ecuador

19.9

106

Italy

19.9

107

Denmark

19.7

108

Peru

19.7

109

Saint Lucia

19.7

110

Switzerland

19.5

111

Antigua and Barbuda

18.9

112

Botswana

18.9

113

Moldova

18.9

114

Trinidad and Tobago

18.6

115

Turkmenistan

18.6

116

Bosnia and Herzegovina

17.9

117

Namibia

17.2

118

Yemen

17.1

119

Kyrgyzstan

16.6

120

Lesotho

16.6

121

Uzbekistan

16.6

122

Eswatini

16.5

123

Malaysia

15.6

124

Zimbabwe

15.5

125

Gabon

15

126

Tajikistan

14.2

127

Brunei

14.1

128

Seychelles

14

129

Djibouti

13.5

130

Mauritania

12.7

131

Sao Tome and Principe

12.4

132

Cabo Verde

11.8

133

Cameroon

11.4

134

Ghana

10.9

135

Mauritius

10.8

136

Cote d'Ivoire

10.3

137

Gambia, The

10.3

138

Thailand

10

139

Liberia

9.9

140

Benin

9.6

141

Republic Of The Congo

9.6

142

Guinea-Bissau

9.5

143

Nigeria

8.9

144

Senegal

8.8

145

Sierra Leone

8.7

146

Maldives

8.6

147

Mali

8.6

148

Pakistan

8.6

149

Tanzania

8.4

150

Togo

8.4

151

Somalia

8.3

152

Angola

8.2

153

Zambia

8.1

154

Equatorial Guinea

8

155

Comoros

7.8

156

Guinea

7.7

157

Central African Republic

7.5

158

Mozambique

7.2

159

Kenya

7.1

160

Indonesia

6.9

161

North Korea

6.8

162

Democratic Republic Of The Congo

6.7

163

South Sudan

6.6

164

Sudan

6.6

165

Bhutan

6.4

166

Philippines

6.4

167

China

6.2

168

Chad

6.1

169

Singapore

6.1

170

Burma

5.8

171

Malawi

5.8

172

Rwanda

5.8

173

Burkina Faso

5.6

174

Afghanistan

5.5

175

Niger

5.5

176

Burundi

5.4

177

Laos

5.3

178

Madagascar

5.3

179

Uganda

5.3

180

Sri Lanka

5.2

181

Eritrea

5

182

South Korea

4.7

183

Ethiopia

4.5

184

Japan

4.3

185

Nepal

4.1

186

Cambodia

3.9

187

India

3.9

188

Timor-Leste

3.8

189

Bangladesh

3.6

190

Vietnam

2.1

191

Palestine

Data not available

192

Liechtenstein

Data not available

193

Monaco

Data not available

194

San Marino

Data not available

195

Vatican City

Data not available

Table: Countries By Obesity. Source: CIA World Factbook

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