What’s the fattest country in the world?

Well, one question is, who cares?   Okay, we know the media cares, and legislators, and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

Dr Samantha Thomas recently posted about some myths popular in the Australian press, including that Australia is the “fattest country”.  (Hint: it isn’t.)   She also linked to some statistics, ranking countries by the percent of the female adult population that is officially obese (BMI > 30).   Oddly enough, to those who read the American media, the US isn’t at the top of the list either.  It’s not even in the top ten.

  1. Papua New Guinea  79.5%
  2. Tonga 70.3%
  3. Samoa 63.0%
  4. Nauru 60.5%
  5. Nicaragua 48.0 %
  6. Cook Islands  n/a (men’s is 40.6%, used to rank it here)
  7. Egypt 46.6%
  8. Niue 46.0%
  9. Qatar 45.3%
  10. French Polynesia 44.3%

Re-sorting the list by the percentage of men who are officially obese does put the US in the top ten, but not by much:

  1. Papua New Guinea 74.8%
  2. Nauru 55.7%
  3. Tonga 46.6%
  4. Cook Islands 40.6%
  5. French Polynesia 36.3%
  6. Lebanon 36.3%
  7. Qatar 34.6%
  8. Samoa 32.9%
  9. USA 32.2%
  10. Panama 27.9%

…and if I use the original list’s methodology of sorting on the opposite sex if only one sex’s data is available, Nicaragua is 3rd,  Eygpt is 5th, and US bumps to 11th.

The US has a greater overall population than these other countries, which affects absolute numbers – but not prevalence.

It’s also interesting how many countries have large discrepancies between men and women’s prevalences.   South Africa, for example, has a prevalence of 8.8% for men and 27.4% for women.   US is a bit of an oddball in that the men’s and women’s prevalences are very close to each other.   There are a few where the men’s prevalence is above the women’s, and those are mostly differences below 5%, with Malta and Greece being the outliers.

I certainly don’t consider this world-shaking, but it is interesting to have data instead of myths.

18 thoughts on “What’s the fattest country in the world?

  1. I thought Samoa would be in there. I’ve seen a lot of plump, Sumo-looking folk from that part of the world. I don’t mean that as an insult either (and it would be hypocritical if I did, considering my own 275-pound size) The Samoans are an attractive people and all the folks I’ve encountered from Samoa have been very pleasant as well.

  2. Well, unless you’re a concern troll who thinks fat people are diseased and we need to study them like bugs under glass to find out what makes them that way so we can fix them, there is no valid reason to care about which countries are more or less obese than others.

    As far as using the data to bust myths about which country is the fattest, I doubt it will help — facts don’t matter to fat shamers and concern trolls. Just look at how long that claim about this being the first generation where kids will all be unhealthier and die younger than their parents because they’re all fat. It was never true, it was an opinion piece with no backing by actual science, and we’ve known that for what, a decade now? Yet it’s still being reported as a fact.

    Unfortunately, a lie will stick around far, far longer than the truth needed to debunk it if it feeds into popular prejudice.

  3. Maybe this might stop the “you live in the fattest country in the world” bludgeon.

    From an epidemiological point of view, tracking changes in bodies can be interesting, because obesity is normal in some populations, while in others it follows the introduction of Western modes of eating, or of colonisation. If a population changed over a hundred years from a particular height or size to much smaller, or taller, or thinner, that would be equally interesting.

    It’s not a moral judgement (in an ideal world, anyway). It’s an observation.

  4. Really good post.

    US is a bit of an oddball in that the men’s and women’s prevalences are very close to each other.

    I understand this is not the case amongst black people and some other POC groups.

    I think it’s important to expose the real relationship the crisis has to fact.

    And there is nothing wrong with studying human biology, it is the chanelling of hate into objective study that is the problem.

    The desire to understand and study ourselves is perfectly reasonable, noble even and way too important to yield to the cynical and biased who use that as a cloak for their agendas.

    Nor should they be allowed to define what their cynicism derails.

  5. Interesting. I just finished reading the post on Discourse about how Australia’s media incorrectly accuse it of being The Fattest Nation On Earth, and here in the U.S. we hear the same thing about ourselves all the time. Yet neither is true. I wonder what that says? That in addition to the human psyche’s individual capacity to make up flaws to feed the need for self-loathing, it exists at the population level to? Yeesh.

  6. It doesn’t matter & it will not change the opinions of the concern trolls or the flat-out haters. It is interesting, though, & I am not at all surprised to find so many Islander/Polynesian people in the top ten. Being fat & becoming fatter with age is very normal among these people & also much more widely & matter-of-factly accepted. There were studies years ago showing that fat people in places such as Samoa, who did not live with prejudice & pressure to be thin, had a very low incidence of the so-called ‘obesity-related’ diseases. I also recall that, about three years ago, the death of the king of Tonga was reported. He was around 380 pounds at the time of his death & had weighed around 475 for much of his life. He was also 88 years old.

    And I am MORE than tired & fed up with that myth that we are unhealthy, that our children are unhealthy, or that they will have shorter lives than we have. Americans are generally healthier & living longer than ever.

  7. I actually wrote a little bit on this subject on my Livejournal:
    http://closetpuritan.livejournal.com/26451.html
    http://closetpuritan.livejournal.com/25987.html

    Different places have different lists, and I don’t fully understand why. Some of it could be the fact that one place goes by average BMI, one breaks it down by gender, one goes by percentage of people with BMI >30, etc., but I think some of it must be based on what is considered a country (and some only list “important” countries).

  8. What I would like to see is a chart rating the levels of “obesity” along with life expectancy for men and women in different countries. I’m betting that the fattest countries also have the longest life expectancies.

  9. The Finnish media is constantly telling us Finns that we’re the second most obese country in the world, right after Americans.

    A British friend says the British media tells them that they’re the second most obese country in the world, almost as obese as the Americans.

    An Austrian friend says that Austrian media… Well, you can guess what they’re saying. :D

  10. Pingback: On my mind in FA today « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

  11. 80% of Papua New Guineans live rural, subsistence-farming lives. I’m pretty sure if you work the earth (and I don’t mean your tomato gardens) daily, you won’t have a weight problem. These statistics do not truly represent my nation. I actually laughed my head off when I first read about it. Thought it was joke……

    • Hmm… my theory is that if you are a subsistence farmer, you will not be obese. Yet the data contradict that. It must be the data, and not my theory, that is incorrect.

      I wish I could say that this type of reaction surprised me.

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