Obesity is a chronic health condition that affects a huge number of people around the world. It places a significant strain on health systems and costs national budgets millions of dollars. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that more than 1.9 billion adults and 38.9 million children are overweight and 650 million of those are obese. At the global level, the microstates in the central and south Pacific region are those most affected by obesity, followed by the United States, Kuwait, and Qatar. This article defines obesity and overweight and provides a list of the top 10 ‘obese’ countries.
Defining obesity and overweight
Body mass index (BMI) is a framework used to identify the weight-for-height ratio for individuals. BMI is derived from dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2).
The WHO defines an overweight person as someone whose BMI is equal to or greater than 25.
Obesity, on the other hand, is a chronic health condition that considerably increases the risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart diseases, and certain types of cancer. An individual is considered obese when their BMI is equal to or greater than 30.
Top 10 obese countries (as of 2016)
*Microstates in the south and central Pacific (aggregated population 902,896 people) – a number of thirteen south and central Pacific microstates top the list of countries with the highest prevalence of obesity. The average percentage of overweight people in these countries is 53.1%. Nauru, a tiny island country in Micronesia, is the global leader (62.3%) in this respect followed by American Samoa (62%) and the Cook Islands (57.4%)
Kuwait (total population: 4.3 million) – in 2016, about 40.7% of the people living in Kuwait were overweight. The rates of increase in adult obesity over the last two decades (1995-2015) were 2.0% for men and 0.8% for women, while the health costs attributed to obesity in 2016 were US$790.8 million
Qatar (total population: 2.9 million) – the proportion of people living with obesity in Qatar was about 39% in 2016. The rates of increase in adult obesity over the last two decades were 2.4% for men and 1.1% for women with both indicators being classified as rapid growth. The health costs attributed to obesity in 2016 were $794.5 million
Saudi Arabia (total population: 34.8 million) – ranks 16th in the list of countries with the highest prevalence of obesity, with about 37.7% of the adult population being overweight. The rates of increase in adult obesity over the last two decades were very high with a 2.7% increase for men and 1.4% for women. The health costs attributed to obesity in 2016 were $6.4 billion
United States of America (total population: 329.5 million) – the US ranks 17th in the list of countries with the highest overall prevalence of obesity with 37.3% of the adult population being overweight. However, with regard to the number of adults over 20 years old living with obesity, the US ranks first with almost 90 million people affected. The health costs attributed to obesity in 2016 were $595.5 billion
Jordan (total population: 10.2 million) – the share of the adult population suffering from obesity in Jordan is 36.9%. It is significant that the growth rates among those considered overweight were very high, 2.8% for men and 1.4% for women. The health costs attributed to obesity in 2016 were about $359.8 million
Bermuda (total population: 63,903 people) – about 36.5% of the adult population of this British island territory in the North Atlantic Ocean are obese. The recent rates in the increase in adult obesity were 2.1% for men and 0.9% for women. The data on the health costs attributed to obesity is not available.
United Arab Emirates (total population: 9.9 million) – here, about 35.5% of the adult population are overweight, ranking it 20th on the list of countries with the highest overall prevalence of obesity. The rates of increase in adult obesity over the last two decades were 2.7% for men and 1.3% for women, while the health costs attributed to obesity in 2016 were about $1.8 billion
Puerto Rico (total population: 3.2 million) – about 35.3% of the Puerto Rican adult population is obese. Moreover, the rates of increase in adult obesity over the last two decades were 2.3% for men and 1.0% for women, both indicators considered to show rapid growth. The data on the health costs attributed to obesity is not available
Lebanon (total population: 6.8 million) – about 33.4 % of the adult population is obese. The rates of increase in adult obesity over the last two decades were 2.5% for men and 1.3%, both indicators signifying a rapid growth. The health costs attributed to obesity in 2016 were $600.9 million
* The thirteen central and southern Pacific microstates are Nauru (59.85% of the adult population is obese out of 9,770 people), American Samoa (58.75% out of 55,197 people), Cook Islands (53.97% out of 17,459 people), Palau (53.15% out of 18,092 people), Marshall Islands (49.85% out of 59,194 people), Tahiti (French Polynesia) (48.89% out of 189,517 people), Tuvalu (48.47% out of 11,792 people), Niue (46.17% out of 1,620 people), Kiribati (42.87% out of 119,446 people), Tonga (42.72% out of 105,697 people), Federated States of Micronesia (41.48% out of 115,021 people), Tokelau (41.40% out of 1,411 people), Samoa (41.28% out of 198,410 people).
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