Health > Obesity: Countries Compared


Author: chris.lockyer781

The most common value used to measure obesity is the Body Mass Index (BMI) because it is inexpensive and simple to obtain. BMI is computed as the weight in kilograms divided by the value of the height in meters squared. In adults, individuals with BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, while those with BMI at 30 and above are obese.


Obesity is associated with an increased risk of morbidity and mortality. In the US, a prospective cohort study showed that being overweight increases the risk of death by 20 t0 40% while obesity increases it up to three-fold compared to individuals with normal weight. It is also closely linked to the development of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, musculoskeletal disorders and some types of cancer.

Obesity is considered a global epidemic. Its prevalence is continuously monitored through the Global Database on BMI of the WHO. Between 1998 and 2008, the global prevalence of obesity has doubled. It rose from 5% to 10% in men and from 8% to 14% in women worldwide.

The prevalence of obesity differs between regions and between high and low income countries. It is highest in the WHO Regions of the Americas (26%) and lowest in South East Asia (3%). The rate of obesity increases with the income level of a country. Countries with upper middle and high income have more than double the rates of those in the lower middle and low income countries.

Obesity rates are higher in women than in men worldwide. In low and lower middle income countries, these rates are almost double that of men. In higher income countries, they are similar.

There are multiple factors associated with obesity. Genetics, the environment and human behavior play important roles in the development of obesity. Excess energy intake coupled with decreasing energy expenditure are vital components in this growing epidemic. Studies show that the amount and energy density of food intake per individual in the US has been increasing over time.

Physical inactivity is also an important factor related to obesity. Two proxy measures for this factor are car ownership and amount of television viewing. For every additional hour spent watching TV, there is a 2% increased risk of obesity. Other important factors include the availability and price of food, and access to facilities for physical activity and exercise.

Compared to other high income countries, Japan’s obesity rate is very low. Several factors are thought to influence this. The average person in Japan consumes 200 calories less per day than the average person in the US. Food prices and the cost of automobiles are higher. On the average, each Japanese above 15 years of age walks almost 4 miles per day.

(1) Adams KF, Schatzkin A, Harris TB, et al. Overweight, obesity, and mortality in a large prospective cohort of persons 50 to 71 years old. N Engl J Med 2006 Aug 24;355(8):763-778.

(2) Senauer B, Gemma M. 2006. Why is the obesity rate so low in Japan and high in the U.S.? Some possible economic explanations. http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/14321/1/tr06-02s.pdf

(3) Nguyen DM, El-Serag HB. The epidemiology of obesity. Gastroenterol Clin North Am 2010 March; 39(1):1-7

(4) World Health Organization. Global Health Observatory: Obesity. http://www.who.int/gho/ncd/riskfactors/obesitytext/en/

(5) World Health Organization. World Health Statistics 2013. http://www.who.int/gho/publications/worldhealthstatistics/ENWHS2013Full.pdf

DEFINITION: Percentage of total population who have a BMI (body mass index) greater than 30 Kg/sq.meters (Data for Australia, Austria and Portugal is from 2002. All other data is from 2003). Obesity rates are defined as the percentage of the population with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. The BMI is a single number that evaluates an individual's weight status in relation to height (weight/height2, with weight in kilograms and height in metres). For Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, figures are based on health examinations, rather than self-reported information. Obesity estimates derived from health examinations are generally higher and more reliable than those coming from self-reports, because they preclude any misreporting of people's height and weight. However, health examinations are only conducted regularly in a few countries (OECD).


1 United States 30.6% 2003
2 Mexico 24.2% 2003
3 United Kingdom 23% 2003
4 Slovakia 22.4% 2003
5 Greece 21.9% 2003
6 Australia 21.7% 2003
7 New Zealand 20.9% 2003
8 Hungary 18.8% 2003
9 Luxembourg 18.4% 2003
10 Czech Republic 14.8% 2003
Group of 7 countries (G7) average (profile) 14.56% 2003
11 Canada 14.3% 2003
High income OECD countries average (profile) 13.67% 2003
12 Spain 13.1% 2003
13 Ireland 13% 2003
14 Germany 12.9% 2003
=15 Finland 12.8% 2003
=15 Portugal 12.8% 2003
17 Iceland 12.4% 2003
18 Turkey 12% 2003
19 Belgium 11.7% 2003
20 Netherlands 10% 2003
21 Sweden 9.7% 2003
22 Denmark 9.5% 2003
23 France 9.4% 2003
24 Austria 9.1% 2003
25 Italy 8.5% 2003
26 Norway 8.3% 2003
27 Switzerland 7.7% 2003
=28 Japan 3.2% 2003
=28 South Korea 3.2% 2003


"Countries Compared by Health > Obesity. International Statistics at NationMaster.com", OECD Health Data 2005. Aggregates compiled by NationMaster. Retrieved from http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Health/Obesity

Health > Obesity: Countries Compared Map


Statistics for Health > Obesity


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