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Obesity epidemic : the top ten countries with the fattest people

Updated on November 29, 2010


Ever wondered idly where the fattest people live? Which country in the world is home to the porkiest people? Wonder no more!

The Economist publishes yearly figures for every country in the world, about every single statistic you can imagine.

Amid % spending of GDP on health care, and average figures for literacy and clean water supplies, is a list of the obese populations of each country.

So I got out my calculator, did a little extra research, and here they are! The top ten countries for obesity.

I must admit, I was prejudiced. I expected the USA to top the list, and I was absolutely wrong.

I also thought England would thud heavily towards the top, but it didn't even make the list (an honourable 12th place only.)

The figures are for the percentage of the adult population with a BMI over 30.

That will, of course, catch a few rugby players and heavyweight boxers who have high BMIs and low body fat percentages, but most people with a BMI of 30+ are just fat.

"The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli, 1485
"The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli, 1485
Aphrodite's Rock, Cyprus
Aphrodite's Rock, Cyprus

10th fattest - Cyprus

The Republic of Cyprus nestles in the warm waters of the Mediterraean, occupying in law the whole island of Cyprus, but in fact about 60% of the land area (the unrecognised Turkish Cyprus bags the rest).

About 800,000 people call Cyprus home, and approximately 2.5 million tourists a  year visit.

Independent from Britain since 1960, Cyprus has been a member of the European Union since 2004.

Awash with classical mythology and ruins, Cyprus was the home of Aphrodite (Greek goddess of beauty and sex) and Adonis (Greek god of ever-youth, male beauty, and plants).

Today's Cypriot gods and goddesses are somewhat larger than their classical counterparts - 26.6% of Cypriot men are obese, and 23.7% of women.

Overall, the island nation comes in at tenth place in the fat list, with 25.15% of the population having a BMI of over 30.

Joint 8th in porkiness - Bahrain

The Kingdom of Bahrain ("Bahrain" means "two seas") is a constitutional monarchy in the Persian Gulf, and has been Islamic since about 900 AD.

The country spreads across 33 islands, near Saudi Arabia (a big bridge connects the countries) and Qatar (another massive bridge is planned).

Oil was found in the country in the early 1930s, and much of the country's wealth is based on oil.

The country is hot and dry - 93% of the land is desert, and only 3% can be used for farming.

About 1.2 million people live in Bahrain, and they are a large lot. 23.3% of men are obese, and 34.1% of women - overall, 28.7% of the adult population is obese.

Joint 8th for obesity - Kuwait

The second, but far from last, appearance in this list from a country in the Middle East.

Kuwait, bordering Saudi Arabia and Iraq, is a constitutional monarchy. 3.5 millionpeople live here, but only 1.5 million of them are Kuwaiti citizens. 

The country became independent from Britain in 1961. Today, it's an Islamic, Arabic-speaking nation, and an important oil producer - it has the fifth largest oil reserves in the world, and 95% of exports are oil.

Kuwait is hot, desert-like, and dry - the only country in the world which doesn't have a natural lake or water reservoir.

And they are a well-sized lot. 28.7% of Kuwaitis are obese. Women are more fat here, as 29.9% of them have a BMI of 30 or more, compared with 27.5% of men.

Bahrain landscape
Bahrain landscape
Korab, Albania
Korab, Albania

7th chubby country - Albania

29.2% of Albanians are obese - the second European country to grab a place on the fat list.

The Republic of Albania has borders with Kosovo (also an Albanian-speaking country), Greece, Macedonia, and Montenegro.

Until the break-up of Yugoslavia, all those, apart from Greece, were part of the former country.

Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Approximately 3.5 million people call the place home.

Most are Muslim, but there are also large Christian Orthodox and Catholic communities.

Albania had one of the best-ever named Kings - King Zog, who ruled in the 1920s and 1930s.

The country is now a parliamentary democracy, following several decades of communist rule by Enver Hoxha, ending when he died in 1985.

Albania has a long coastline, and is a very hilly and green country.

22.8% of men are obese, here, and an astonishing 35.6% of women.

The Codex Mendoza's front page, from a 71 page guide to Mexican culture, life and history, written in about 1540 AD. Now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.
The Codex Mendoza's front page, from a 71 page guide to Mexican culture, life and history, written in about 1540 AD. Now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

Obese Mexico in 6th place

The first of three American countries to make the cut, and the last country on this list where fewer than 30% of the adults are obese, is the United Mexican States.

Mexico, a federal republic, has 31 federal states, and a population estimated at 110 million people. It is a Spanish-speaking country (with tens of native languages as well) and a Christian country, in fact but not in law. Most Mexicans, some 90%, are Roman Catholics.

Oil is Mexico's biggest foreign export (there is a real trend here - oil-producing nations are fat countries).

The country notches up 29.45% of its adults as obese. Men are seriously slimmer than women in Mexico - 24.4% of men have a BMI of over 30, far less than the 34.5% of women who make the grade.

Canal construction, 1907
Canal construction, 1907
Locks being built for the Panama Canal in 1913.
Locks being built for the Panama Canal in 1913.

A canal through the middle of obesity - Panama is number 5

The Republic of Panama sits either side of the isthmus connecting the north and south American tectonic plates, and has land borders with Columbia and Costa Rica.

Bagged by the Spanish in their massive colonisation efforts in the 16th century, Panama remained a Spanish possession for 300-odd years, before becoming independent finally in 1903.

Panama's position astride the narrow land bridge has made it unique.

Without the Panama Canal, ships wanting to go from the Atlantic to the Pacific would still have to go right round South America, never an easy or short journey.

The Canal had been thought of for some time, and after declaring independence, Panama granted the USA the land to build and run the 50-odd mile Canal forever.

In 1977, control passed to Panama from the USA.

Panama is a wet, tropical country, with extensive rainforests.

An officially Spanish-speaking democracy with approximately 3.5 million people (40% speak various forms of English), Panama citizens are almost all Christian, and Roman Catholic.

32% of adults in the country are obese, 27.9% of men, and 36.1% of women.

American Great Seal
American Great Seal

In a surprisingly low 4th for fatties, the USA

The third and last American country on the list is the United States of America.

Another oil-producer, there really may be a link here....

The USA is a federal republic, with a population of about 307 million people. There is no official state language, but the standard across the country is English, with Spanish the most-used second.

The USA's population is 32.15% obese. 34.1% of American adult men have a BMI of over 30, and 33.2% of American women. The figures for the two genders are much closer than most entrants on the list.

The not-slim King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
The not-slim King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

A (large) bronze medal for Saudi Arabia

Back to the Middle East, and third on the list is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi has borders with lots of other countries - Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen.

The current Kingdom dates from 1932, and the country is ruled by the House of Saud, as an Islamic absolute monarchy. In keeping with the Islamic nature of the state, women's activities are severely limited (they must cover up comprehensively, and can't drive) and there is no alcohol.

It is a major oil producer, the biggest oil exporter in the world. The oil and obesity theme continues....

Most of the country is hot and desert, and only 2% of the land is used for agriculture.

The Arabic-speaking population is estimated at about 27 million people. 35.2% of the country's adults are obese, 26.4% of men and 44% of women.

The Parliament Building in Beirut
The Parliament Building in Beirut

Settling for 2nd place, the obese people of Lebanon

The large people of Lebanon live in a small country on the Mediterraean, with Israel and Syria as neighbours.

Lebanon was a peaceful and prosperous place (the "Switzerland of the Middle East") until the civil war started in the late 1970s, and since then, has become a troubled and violent place. Since 2006, things have definitely improved for the country.

Lebanon is a rocky and upland country in the main, with a temperate Mediterraean climate.

It became independent in 1941, having previously been a French colony. The official languages today are Arabic and French.

Approximately 4 million people live in the country, and another 18 million of Lebanese descent (mostly Christian) live across the world. The current citizens are approximately 60% Muslim and 39% Christian.

Those 4 million are a large lot. 37.3% of the adults in the country are obese, 36.3% of men and 38.3% of women have a BMI of over 30. Although in second place overall, Lebanese men are the fattest in the world.

Zubara Fort, Qatar
Zubara Fort, Qatar

First place in the obesity epidemic - Qatar!

Qatar is a clear winner in the fattest people competition. Another Middle Eastern country, it is next to other entrants in this list, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Qatar became an Islamic country in the mid 7th century AD, and remains so. It became independent from Britain in 1971, and is now an Emirate. 

A lot of the countries in this list are oil producers, and a lot are former British colonies. Qatar is, fittingly, both. It has massive reserves of both oil and natural gas, and zero income tax for its citizens. It is a very wealthy country indeed, by many measures, it has the highest GDP in the world.

Qatar's estimated 1.5 million citizens are Arabic speakers.

And they are large. Very large. More than 2.5% higher than second-placed in this list, 39.95% of adults are obese. 34.6% of men have a BMI of over 30, and an absolutely astonishing 45.3% of women are obese.


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