Obesity: A Public Health Epidemic

In 1995, approximately 200 million adults around the world were considered obese. Today, that number is reported to be closer to 700 million. Obesity, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) equal to or greater than 30, can lead to several health problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer.

Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of premature death. In fact, around 20% of all deaths in the US are related to obesity. This public health issue has become a social norm in many countries around the world. This article examines where obesity is most common.

Socio-Economics and Obesity

Obesity was once believed to be a problem faced primarily by populations living in high-income countries. Recent research, however, indicates that the opposite is true. In fact, out of the list of the 29 most obese countries, more entries are from developing countries than developed ones. The most obese populations in the world live in Pacific Island nations, which make up many the top ten positions on the list. The second most obese region of the world is in the Middle East, as countries from this region also occupy top places in the table.

This pattern indicates that one of the biggest contributing factors to obesity rates around the world is the socio-economic status of a country or person. In many developing countries, the urban population and average income are increasing at extremely high rates. These two factors are directly related to more sedentary lifestyles and an increased consumption of obesity causing substances like salt, sugar, and animal fat. Additionally, the rise in income is often not enough to keep up with the increasing cost of living found in cities. With little to no expendable income (and not enough time for cooking healthy meals), people often turn to convenience foods which, while low in cost, are high in caloric content.

Obesity in the Pacific

As previously mentioned, many of the most obese countries in the world are located in the Pacific region. In these countries, one of the primary causes of preventable death is obesity. Palau tops this list with 47.1% of the population considered to be obese. After Palau are the following countries: Nauru (45.1%), Marshall Islands (42.3%), Samoa (41.60%), Tonga (41.1%), and Qatar (41.0%). Please note that this data only takes into consideration countries with established independence, and doesn’t include overseas territories or dependents.

Researchers have determined that the most likely cause of the rampant obesity on these islands is the local diet. The majority of the food consumed here is processed and high in calories. Land is a limited resource on islands, making agriculture difficult to pursue. Of the land available on many of these islands, large tracts have been taken over by mining companies. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not part of the typical daily diet. Instances of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke have been increasing in these countries.

The chart published below offers a look at additional countries with high rates of obesity.

Countries by their Obesity Rate

RankCountryObesity Percentage
1Palau 47.1 %
2Nauru 45.1 %
3Marshall Islands 42.3 %
4Samoa41.6 %
5Tonga 41.1 %
6Qatar41.0 %
7Kiribati 40.1 %
8Tuvalu 39.6 %
9Kuwait 38.3 %
10The Bahamas 36.6 %
11Fiji35.9 %
12United States 35.0 %
13United Arab Emirates 34.5 %
14Bahrain 34.1 %
15Saudi Arabia 33.7 %
16Barbados 33.2 %
17Federated States of Micronesia 33.2 %
18Vanuatu 32.9 %
19Trinidad and Tobago 32.3 %
20Andorra 32.1 %
21Libya 31.9 %
22Antigua and Barbuda31.0 %
23Lebanon 30.8 %
24New Zealand 30.6 %
25Canada 30.1 %