Fattest Countries in the World



More than 1.6 billion people in the world are either overweight or obese, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization. Here’s a look at the


countries with the highest percent of overweight adults (people age 15 and over). People are considered overweight if their body mass index (BMI) is 25 or higher and obese with a BMI or 30 or higher.


% Overweight or obese











Federated States of Micronesia91.1





Cook Islands




































United States





































% Overweight or obese

















New Zealand






United Arab Emirates












Trinidad and Tobago





Source: World Health Organization.


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Lauren Streib 02.08.07, 12:01 AM ET




No matter how you tip the scales, Americans are getter wider every year. What's worse is that many nations are following suit.


In a list of the countries with the greatest percentage of overweight people, Nauru tops a list of countries with the greatest percentage of overweight people, with an alarming 94.5% of its adult population (ages 15+) classified as such, based on the most recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands, Niue and Tonga round out the top five, all with a portly population of over 90%.


The U.S. weighs in at No. 9, with 74.1% of those over 15 years old considered overweight. But given that its population is nearly 20,000 times that of Nauru, clearly the U.S.’s size belies it rank.


In                             Pictures:                             World's                             Fattest                             Countries

Complete List: World's Fattest Countries



Experts say it is not surprising that people across the globe are increasingly becoming overweight. They blame urbanization and the influx of Western ways of life including myriad fast food choices, little exercise and stressful jobs.


"Due to urbanization, more people are living in more dense environments, in cities where they are removed from traditional food sources and dependent on an industrial food supply," says Neville Rigby, director of policy and public affairs for the International Association for the Study of Obesity. Modernization is causing countries with small populations and few resources to depend on imported, often over-processed food. "The Western diet overwhelms, and many people are not genetically engineered to cope with this," says Rigby.


Countries Transformed


This change in lifestyle is most evident in the South Pacific. On the list of "fattest" countries, eight of the top 10 are in the Pacific region.


In the last 50 years this area has established significant economic ties with the U.S. and New Zealand, which caused a surge in Western imports and a significant change in diet. Studies conducted by the WHO Western Pacific regional office and by the International Obesity Task Force, a London-based think tank, also point to several other factors they say contribute to the region’s high obesity rates. These include the common belief that beauty is marked by a large physical size, the reliance on fatty, nutrient-deficient imported foods and a decrease in activity caused by less farming and agricultural work.


Elsewhere, developing countries are dealing with what many experts call a nutrition transition--economies that are used to dealing primarily with undernutrition must now fight obesity.


"Obesity has become a problem of poverty," says Daniel Epstein of the WHO Regional Office of the Americas. “Poor people have an easier time of eating junk food. People fill up on things that have a high caloric value but little nutritional value.”



Dr. Frank Hu, associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, agrees.


"The problems of obesity rates dramatically increase in countries that are undergoing economical development," he says. Rural workers moving to urban areas perform less physical labor and supplant traditional low-fat diets that include local goods with processed diets that are high in fat and sugar.


China and India have relatively low percentages of overweight adults, 28.9% and 16.0% respectively. But obesity and its potential complications are increasing there at unparalleled speed due to the growth of urban populations and an expanding middle class who can afford richer food in greater quantities than their rural counterparts. In China, for example, the number of obese people has tripled since 1992, the WHO reports.


It’s Not All About Size


The related health risks associated with being overweight are striking. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke are just some of the hazards.


It should not come as a shock that the nation with the highest rate of adult diabetes is Nauru, where nearly 31% of the population is struck with the disease, according to the International Diabetes Federation. The countries with the largest numbers of people with diabetes are India (40.9 million), China (39.8 million) and the U.S. (19.2 million).


Behind the Numbers


The WHO's definitions of "overweight" and "obese" are based on an individual's body mass index (BMI), which measures weight relative to height. Overweight is marked by a BMI greater than or equal to 25 and obese is defined as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.


It's important to note that the definitions for overweight can vary by country and study. For example, in China, where the population has a high susceptibility to abdominal obesity (which is not directly reflected in BMI calculations), the cut-off point for overweight is 23.



There are currently 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world. In just 10 years, the WHO projects that number will grow by 40%.


As far as comparing the obesity rates of countries, "it's hard to make automatic comparisons," says Rigby. "It’s more important to recognize that levels are increasing across the board."


What are the fattest countries in the world?


U.S. doesn't make the top five



Think America’s obesity crisis is bad?


On the tiny Pacific island of Nauru a stunning 78.5 percent of adults are obese, according to data collected by the World Health Organization. That’s more than double the U.S. rate of 33.9 percent, which puts us at eighth on the list of the world’s most obese countries. (Other nations in the top ten include American


Samoa, Tonga, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain.) Latitude News has compiled a selection of the world’s fattest and skinniest countries using data from the WHO. Check out our interactive map below:


Most of the countries ahead of the U.S. are also Pacific islands nations. In Foreign Policy, Joshua Keating writes that the fast pace of globalization in the South Pacific has contributed to a worrying rise in obesity. As the old life of subsistence farming fell by the wayside, processed food and Western imports like rice, flour, sugar and beer have replaced fresh fish and fruit, a narrative being repeated in parts of the Middle East too. It doesn’t help, Keating writes, that

Pacific cultures consider physical size to be a sign of wealth and good fortune.


It’s not just the Pacific. Expanding waistlines and associated health problems like diabetes and heart disease threaten lives worldwide. A 2011 study in the Lancet, a British medical journal, found that obesity is now a bigger problem for global health than hunger.


“The so-called ‘Western lifestyle’ is being adapted all around the world, and the impacts are all the same,” one of the paper’s co-authors told CNN.


Is the problem us or our food?



Some commentators suggest obesity isn’t just about changing what we eat, but changing who we are. In the right-leaning British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, Theodore Dalrymple bemoans a culture in which families eat in front of the TV and children don’t know how to use a fork and knife.



But as fast food outlets move into shuttered grocery stores around the world, regulators argue it’s time for the law to step in. New York City’s ban on oversized soft drinks was just the beginning. In Brazil, the state of São Paulo has made it illegal for restaurants to give away toys with their food. That means trouble for

McDonald’s “McLanche Feliz” (Happy Meal).


Another measure in São Paulo will forbid radio and TV advertisements promoting foods with high fat or sodium content between 6 AM and 9 PM. And Westminster, a borough of London, has floated the idea of withholding government benefits from obese people if they don’t work out regularly. (Fat chance of that proposal going through.)


At a basic level, all these regulations acknowledge that higher obesity rates lead to higher public health costs and higher taxes for thin and fat alike.


But some countries don’t need consumption laws: the world’s skinniest nations include Vietnam, India and Laos, where hunger remains a major problem. The gap between those countries and the U.S. is staggering. As the Daily Telegraph reports: “While the US makes up only five per cent of the world’s population, it accounts for almost a third of the world’s weight due to obesity. In comparison, Asia has 61 per cent of the world’s people but only 13 percent of the world’s weight.”


For people who can afford it, the simplest solution is best: eat healthy foods and work out. Figuring out how to make those opportunities available to everyone might be the 21st century’s most important public health challenge.