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Worldwide Obesity Rates have been considered a problem for a long time now, due to the health consequences that come with it. Like all chronic diseases, the root causes of obesity run much deeper. They can be genetic, sociocultural, psychological, economic and even environmental. According to the World Obesity Federation (2019) the roots of overweight and obesity come from:
- Genetic Risk
- Healthcare Access
- Life Events
- Mental Health
What are obesity and overweight?
According to the World Health Organization and national center for health statistics, overweight and obesity are defined as irregular or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health problems. Obesity is measured by the body mass index (BMI) which is a simple index that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults.
For adults obesity rates, the World Health Organization classifies overweight and obesity as: overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25, and obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30.
The body mass index provides the most useful measure of overweight and obesity as it is the same for both sexes and for all ages of adults. However, keep in mind that it should be considered a rough guide, only because it may not correspond to the same degree of fat in different individuals since it measures excess weight rather than excess fat.
Obesity and overweight not only affect adults
Studies conducted in 2019 showed an estimated 38.2 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese, from examined countries. Overweight and obesity were once considered a high-income country problem, but in the past decades have been on the rise in low and middle-income countries, particularly in urban settings.
An example: in Africa, the number of overweight children under 5 has increased by nearly 24% since the year 2000, and almost half of the children under 5 who were overweight or obese in 2019 lived in Asia.
Overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight, since globally there are more people who are obese than underweight. Knowing how to prevent and treat this disease is a societal responsibility. In this article we want to show our readers the recent rates of obesity in order to create awareness about this world-wide problem and raise concern about the measures that should be taken.
Down below we share the list of most obese countries by population stated in 2017, the most obese countries by percentage and the top countries on prevalence of obesity, all according to the World Obesity Federation.
As of 2017, these were the top 10 most obese countries by population:
- United States of America – 109,342,839
- China – 97,256,700
- India – 65,619,826
- Brazil – 41,857,656
- Mexico – 36,294,881
- Russia – 34,701,531
- Egypt – 28,192,861
- Turkey – 23,819,781
- Iran – 21,183,488
- Nigeria – 20,997,494
Top 10 most obese countries by percentage:
- Nauru – 61.0%
- Cook Islands – 55.9%
- Palau – 55.3%
- Marshall Islands – 52.9%
- Tuvalu – 51.6%
- Niue – 50.0%
- Tonga – 48.2%
- Samoa – 47.3%
- Kiribati – 46.0%
- Micronesia (Federated States of) – 45.8%
Prevalence of adult overweight & obesity (2023)
Top countries by percentage:
- Jordan – 44.70%
- Ecuador – 41.30%
- United Arab Emirates – 40.10%
- Chile – 39.80%
- Mexico – 39.10%
- Northern Ireland – 38.00%
- Lebanon – 37.9%
- Albania – 36.30%
- England – 36.20%
- Australia – 35.60%
Top countries in the American region by percentage:
- Ecuador – 41.30%
- Chile – 39.80%
- Mexico – 39.10%
- Venezuela – 34.50%
- Argentina – 33.70%
- Canada – 33.50%
- United States – 31.20%
- Bahamas – 27.90%
Whilst Samoa has the highest rates of obesity in men, with a total of 60.8% of its male population. Tonga has 82.8% of their female population living with obesity. These rates are based upon the total population of each country, which means that larger countries won’t be showing on the percentage list. But let’s take a look at the numbers of the country running in first position: the United States of America.
Obesity rates in the United States
Research from the World Obesity Federation has shown that since 1960, the obesity and overweight rates in the United States has increased from 10.4% to 42.4% as last stated in the year 2018.
The United States of America obesity prevalence was 42.4% in 2017. In the last decades this country’s obesity prevalence has increased from 30.5% to 42.4%. And the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. This data corresponds only to the United States of America, but is a great example of how this issue is growing globally.
What causes obesity and overweight?
As mentioned before, obesity and overweight have their roots in different aspects of life that are not only physical but also psychological and environmental. But in a more technical language, medical and health experts have stated that the fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is mostly due to an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended.
In the latest years there has been an increase of obesity and overweight. The global intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars has risen while physical inactivity due to the sedentary nature of many jobs, ever changing modes of transportation, and urbanization has also increased. Both factors that highly contribute to this disease.
To be able to change those factors is not precisely an individual task. Changes in dietary and physical activity patterns are often the result of environmental changes that have to do with the lack of supportive policies in the health sector. Preventing and treating obesity is a communal task.
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions, with at least 2.8 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese. Preventing and treating obesity should be a priority in many countries.
Health risks associated with overweight and obesity.
Obesity and Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the condition most strongly influenced by overweight and obesity. Being overweight or obese is believed to account for 80-85% of the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, since recent research has shown that overweight people are more likely to develop this disease than those with a BMI of 22 or less. Weight gain during adulthood also increases diabetes risk, even among people within a healthy BMI range.
Top 10 countries with highest Diabetes Rates (2023):
- China – 1,444,216,107
- India – 1,393,409,038
- United States – 332,915,073
- Indonesia – 276,361,783
- Pakistan – 225,199,937
- Brazil – 213,993,437
- Nigeria – 211,400,708
- Bangladesh – 166,303,498
- Russia – 145,912,025
- Mexico – 130,262,216
Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease
Overweight is directly associated with heart disease strokes and cardiovascular risk factors. As BMI grows, so do blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and inflammation. Increasing the risk of a cardiovascular complication such as a heart attack or a stroke.
Obesity and Cancer
Overweight is directly associated with types of cancer in men a women, given that cancer is not a single disease but a collection of individual diseases, the association between obesity and cancer is not quite as clear. In 2007 the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded after an extensive investigation that there was evidence of an association between obesity and cancer of the esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, breast, endometrium, kidney, and gallbladder.
Obesity and COVID-19
By early 2021 several studies had been published confirming an increased need for medical services for people living with overweight who develop COVID-19. Higher body mass index (BMI) has been associated with increased risk of hospitalisation, admission to intensive or critical care, and the need for mechanically assisted ventilation. It also raises the risk of dying from the disease.
Can overweight and obesity be reduced?
Overweight and obesity, as well as their related diseases are largely preventable. An effort and support from our environment and communities are fundamental in helping shape the people’s choice by making accessible, available and affordable alternatives to healthier food and regular physical activity, in order to prevent overweight and obesity.
Once they have those options, at the individual level, people can do simple activities to choose a healthier lifestyle, such as:
- Increase consumption of healthier and balanced food (fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts).
- Limit their intake of fats and sugars.
- Engage in daily or regular physical activity.
Individual actions can only have its full effect when people are given access to a healthy lifestyle. To support people in following the recommendations above is crucial at a societal level, giving them options like healthier dietary choices or more spaces for regular physical activity can have a great impact in reducing and preventing overweight and obesity.
Bariatric Surgery as an alternative for treating obesity
Weight loss surgery, also known as bariatric or metabolic surgery, is often used as a treatment for people with obesity problems. Given that bariatric surgery, apart from resulting in significant weight loss, can also help improve many obesity-related conditions. Studies have shown that losing even a small percentage of excess body fat reduces the risk of developing diabetes. And for patients who have already been diagnosed with this disease, weight loss can decrease dependency on medication.
A healthy body weight is essential in both the prevention and treatment of diabetes. While weight loss surgery may not be a cure for this condition, research has proved that diabetic patients who choose bariatric surgery see an improvement in their blood sugar levels. Weight loss surgery can be a big help for patients who are unable to control their blood sugar with diet, medication and exercise alone.
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Diabetes Rates By Country 2021. (2021). World Population Review. https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/diabetes-rates-by-country
Global Health Observatory. (2019). Global Health Observatory. https://data.worldobesity.org/rankings/
Obesity and overweight. (2016). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
Obesity Prevention Source. (s. f.). Harvard T.H. Chan. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-consequences/health-effects/
Prevalence of obesity among adults. (2016). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators/indicator-details/GHO/prevalence-of-obesity-among-adults-bmi-=-30-(crude-estimate)-(-)
World Health Organization. (2021, marzo). COVID-19 and Obesity: The 2021 Atlas. https://www.worldobesityday.org/assets/downloads/COVID-19-and-Obesity-The-2021-Atlas.pdf