How Fat is Your Country?

The OECD just released their Health Data report for 2009.

Included in this giant book o’ stats was an analysis of the expanding number of overweight and obese people on the planet.

And, boy o boy was there a lot of data about global obesity.

Too much in fact.

So, I created these home made charts to hopefully make it a little clearer.

Chart # 1

Obesity statistics broken down by nation

Countries 1 through 15

How fat is your country - chart 1


Chart # 2

Obesity statistics broken down by nation

Countries 16 through 30

How fat is your country - chart 2


Chart # 3

Combined Overweight & Obesity statistics broken down by nation

Countries 1 through 15

How fat is your country - chart 3


Chart # 4

Combined Overweight & Obesity statistics broken down by nation

Countries 16 through 30

How fat is your country - chart 4


This is where I would normally add some comments/analysis.

But after looking at these graphs, I have nothing to say.


Say hello to your future self.


If you take a look at the comments, you will see that Jess makes an excellent point on the main limitation of BMI…namely that it considers weight, not fat as the health risk. It doesn’t distinguish between muscle & fat.

However, as I mentioned to Jess, we can also look at the historical increase in BMI to show the trend towards increased weight. So, even though BMI is a flawed system of measurement, at least it’s consistent. If you gain 10 lbs of weight (fat or muscle), your BMI will increase.

So, the question we need to ask is this – Is the systemic increase in national BMIs due to an increase in muscle mass or fat mass?

I would argue that it’s fat mass.

overweight obese graph - oecd



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  1. So basically we eat like the Italians, the French and the Japanese. Sushi and a small portion of pasta anyone?

  2. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts/musings about why Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Norway and France (I think those are the top 5) have such low rates.

    I’m re-reading “In Defense of Food” (Pollan) right now, which is interesting because it mentions how people in the U.S. are so obsessed with health, but our focus on it may be what’s so unhealthy — how we adopt “rules,” villanize certain foods, etc. I’d be willing to bet that the countries with the lowest obesity rates have people who aim to enjoy food (and have a less explicit focus on just the health benefits), eat what they want (including much more “real” food that’s traditional for their own cultures), and are the better (and healthier!) for it.

  3. Emily
    Switzerlad and Italy and France at least have better public transport systems and people walk a lot more than in the UK or the US, They also eat meals at specific mealtimes rather than snacking and picking. They also cook rather than eating so much convience food. Their portions in restaurants are also smaller – I mean you can swim in the average Starbucks latte and that’s just one example.
    Mind you they are, as they have more convience food, supermarkets and suburbs, as nations putting on more weight.

  4. Let’s not forget that those figures are drawn from BMI measurements – not bodyfat calculations or even basic waist measurements.

    There’s a big difference between what the BMI considers overweight and obese, and overfat. Just considering the typical bone structure of the Japanese and Korean population will start answering certain questions…

    Michael Jordan is obese, as are most athletes, as the BMI can’t tell fat from muscle.

    Hence, those tables are pretty much rubbish.

    Have a nice day. 🙂

  5. Ridiculous numbers aside, did they seriously make action figures of the fat people in Wall-E? Its understandable that children didn’t completely grasp that the movie was a parable for the bleak outlook of the future of humanity if we don’t change, the message reserved for he older crowd. But seriously, action figures of fat people? Real smart Pixar.

  6. Hi Jess,

    I agree with you that there are huge flaws in BMI.

    But, even with those flaws, it is consistent.

    And, if we look at the BMI trends over time, we see that they are increasing year after year. And I don’t think it’s because these populations are gaining large amounts of muscle or bone mass. The increase in national BMI numbers is being driven by systemic fat gain.

    I am adding a new chart to the article that shows the increase in BMI in each country

  7. I think evolution has gone into reverse and we are actually de-volving at this point.

    Between Wall-E & Idiocracy, I think Hollywood is actually showing us a tongue in cheek glimpse at our future.

  8. Hi Em,

    “Real Food” is the answer.

    It’s weird how we take an obvious problem and make it way too complex.

    Even though Pollan’s book isn’t a diet per se, if you follow his food rules,

    Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

    you will be well on your way to a healthier body

  9. BMI doesn’t work for people who train. For the rest of the population (except the kiddies) it is a good enough parameter to use as a guide or yardstick.
    Obviously, if we want more precise diagnostics, we should incorporate a whole lot of other things like waist-hip ratio. For demographic purposes, simple works.

  10. Evolution cannot go into reverse, because evolution doesn’t judge what is fit by what we approve of.

    As a tall person, I don’t fit the BMI. I know height has been increasing as generations pass… Can we see a graph putting average national height up against thismeasure

  11. Good idea Jonathan.

    BMI has waaaaayyyy too many shortcomings to be taken seriously as a measurement of obesity, health, etc… Especially in countries where we have easy access to better technologies. If you wan’t to measure fat – measure fat. At the very least, every doctor should have a quality bio-impedance scale in their office.

    Like you, my BMI says that I am about to drop dead at any moment…and yet all my markers of health are excellent. My doc doesn’t even consider BMI during my annual check-up anymore

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