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What are the Fattest Countries in the World?

People from Nauru taking a walk

Obesity is a common problem around the world, but some countries are suffering from this than others. It is linked to many health complications and diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, respiratory difficulties, and certain types of cancer. It’s the leading cause of preventable death.

Obesity rates vary significantly by country as a result of different lifestyles and diets. Though obesity is previously regarded as a social health issue in high-income countries, the condition has been increasing in low-middle income nations. Statistics show that there is no direct correlation between the country’s obesity rate and its economic status, but wealthier countries tend to have the resources to implement programs that help curb obesity, such as campaigns and initiatives to raise awareness and educate people about what they are eating.

Surprisingly, the fattest countries in the world are not those you might expect. There’s one particular region where obesity is at four times the global average – Oceania. Here are the countries with high rates of obesity:

1. Nauru

Nauru, a tiny island country in Micronesia, is the most overweight nation in the world. Home to a little more than 10,000 people, this island considers obesity as a symbol of affluence, success, and social status.  According to the CIA World Factbook, about 94.5 percent of Nauru’s residents are overweight, while 45.6 percent are obese. Also, around 31 percent are diabetic.

Nauru is the least visited country in the world. A typical diet of Nauru residents consists of white rice, instant noodles, pop, and other processed foods. The majority of their food is imported, which makes healthier options more expensive and harder for the general public to access.

2. Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is another small island nation in the South Pacific with a population of more than 17,000 people. Around 84.7 percent of adults in the country are overweight. In 2007, research from the World Health Organization found that more than 30 percent of children in the Cook Islands were obese.

The Ministry of Health in the Cook Islands cited numerous socioeconomic, behavioral, and environmental factors that cause alarming obesity levels. One reason is that they depend heavily on imported goods, most of which are heavily processed.

3. Palau

Located in the Western Pacific Ocean, Palau is an island nation made of 340 islands and is home to 20,000 people. The Palau region is blessed with pristine beaches and stunning landscapes, but it’s also plagued with health challenges and the worst of which is obesity. Around 47.6 percent of the population is obese, and around 78.4 percent are overweight.

Since Palau is an island, it heavily relies on imported food, and cheaper fast food is widely available. Because of this, diseases like diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, and a wide range of cancers are also common in the country.

4. Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is a chain of volcanic islands whose residents rely on imported foods as part of their daily diet. Because of this, 62.5 percent of the population is considered overweight. Besides obesity, vitamin A deficiency is a widespread public health issue, as well as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

The soil conditions on the islands make farming extremely challenging. It may have an abundance of fruit trees, but it’s not suited for agriculture. Their soil contains a lot of sand, and it lacks the organic content necessary for cultivating crops. This makes fresh and healthy foods expensive for residents.

5. Tuvalu

Obesity is a major health issue in Tuvalu. Like most islands in the Pacific region, they rely heavily on imported foods, most of which are heavily processed, packaged foods full of saturated fat and sugar. The prevalence of adults reporting a high body mass index increased from the past decade, and 81.9 percent of adults in Tuvalu are already overweight or obese.

The common diet of the Tuvaluans include high levels of corned beef, rice, and sugar, and are consumed even when fish and traditional vegetables are available. This diet is believed to contribute to increasing levels of hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases among the citizens.

6. Niue

Niue is a small island country in the South Pacific, only about 101 square miles in land area. Its population of more than 1,600 people is considered as one of the most overweight people in the world, with 80 percent of adults having BMIs of 25 or higher.

There is a considerable difference in the number of overweight men and women in the country. In 2016, there are 82.5 percent of women and 77.6% of men that were overweight.

7. Tonga

According to statistics, 78.5 percent of adults in Tonga are overweight – 43.4 percent of which are obese. Life expectancy has fallen to 64 years, down from the average of mid-70s. Also, up to 40 percent of Tonga’s population have type 2 diabetes. In the 1970s, Tonga had the heaviest monarch in the world, the late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, who weighed in at 200 kilograms.

One of the primary culprits behind Tonga’s obesity problem is the importation of cheap, fatty meats and from New Zealand. When Tonga joined the World Trade Organization in 2005, import tariffs were reduced, making families move away from their traditional healthy diet full of fish, fruits, and vegetables. A year before that, Tonga started a comprehensive health strategy to fight obesity and was the first Pacific Island nation to do so. Their move to join the WTO has somehow made it harder for the government to curb the country’s weight problem.

8. Samoa

About 77.6 percent of adults in Samoa are overweight. While their adoption of the Westernized lifestyle, as well as the high-calorie, processed foods, is to blame – which is the main culprit for obesity problems for most of the countries in the Oceanic region. However, for Samoa, there’s another factor that inhibits the Samoan’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.

One study has found that genetics play a role in the prevalence of obesity in Samoa. Researchers found a gene that increases a person’s obesity risk by 40 percent, and this gene is found in one-quarter of all Samoans. This gene is unique to the Samoans because it is said to have developed during the colonization period when Samoans were colonizing the South Pacific Islands. The gene enables Samoans to endure long voyages by storing more fat and release less energy. Today, their people do not need that kind of energy, which likely contributes to the country’s high BMI scores.

9. Kiribati

Obesity has been a significant health risk factor for the most isolated country in the world: Kiribati. The country has 78.7 percent, overweight adults. Around 54 percent of females and 38 percent of males aged 20 and above are classified as overweight or obese.

Despite a rich supply of locally harvested crops, and an abundant supply of fish, residents of Kiribati, have increased their consumption of cheap, low-quality, imported foods that are high in sugar, saturated fat, and salt. Cardiovascular diseases have been the main cause of death, citing overweight and obesity as a cause of illness.

10. Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia is a small country comprising more than 600 islands but has a large obesity problem. Around 76 percent of Micronesia’s adult population is overweight. About 26.1 percent of adults are likely to die between the ages of 30 to 70 due to diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or cancer – and this rate is one of the highest percentages of all nations in Oceania.

The United States has strongly influenced this island country, and American processed food has been consumed more than traditional healthy produce.

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