How tiny Nauru became world's fattest nation

Scientists warn of 'tsunami of obesity' as Western lifestyles spread across the globe

The world is facing a "population emergency" as soaring rates of obesity threaten a pandemic of cardiovascular disease, scientists have warned.

The spread of Western fast food was blamed as the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru was named as the fattest in the world. Its average Body Mass Index is between 34 and 35, 70 per cent higher than in some countries in South-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

More than one in 10 of the world's population is obese – more than half a billion adults – and rates have doubled since 1980. The biggest increases are in the richer nations but almost every country has seen rates rise.

Only Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo and a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa and east and south Asia have escaped the rise. Yet even in these regions neighbouring countries have had widely differing experiences. The women of Southern Africa are among the fattest in the world.

The rise is being driven by increasing urbanisation, the growth of sedentary, office-based lifestyles and the substitution of Western-style fast foods for traditional diets. Researchers from Imperial College London and McMaster University in Canada, writing in The Lancet, describe it as a "tsunami of obesity that will eventually affect all regions of the world".

In its wake comes an epidemic of heart disease and stroke, linked with high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels. Remarkably, high-income countries such as the US and UK have managed to avoid this, by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol with drugs and dietary changes, such as reducing salt and fats. Smoking too, one of the key causes of heart disease, has fallen. (Japan is an exception where historically low cholesterol levels, associated with the nation's high consumption of fish, have risen to levels seen in western Europe, as the Japanese adopt a Western diet.)

But in middle and low-income countries the outlook is "dismal". "Considering all risk-factor trends together, the forecast for cardiovascular disease burden... comprises a population emergency that will cost tens of millions of preventable deaths, unless rapid and widespread actions are taken by governments and health care systems woldwide," the researchers say.

Treating the consequences of the obesity explosion with drugs will create an "unsustainable financial burden" in these countries and there is an "urgent need" to understand why unhealthy behaviours are adopted by both individuals and communities.

With an increasing trend towards globalisation and urbanisation, the problem is likely to get worse rather than better. "Ironically the economic growth of low-income and middle- income countries is now threated by the projected cardiovascular disease epidemic," they say.

Citing the noted British epidemiologist Geoffrey Rose, the authors say: "Mass disease and mass exposures require mass remedies. Mass remedies require the masses to be part of the solution."

The world obesity map

Fastest growing: US

The US saw the biggest rise in BMI of all developed nations between 1980 and 2008, more than 1kg a decade. Increasingly sedentary occupations, less walking and cycling, more driving in cars and rising consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks are behind the rise which affects all high-income countries.

Slimming down: Italy

Italy is the only high-income country in Europe where BMI declined - for women, from 25.2 to 24.8. Even among men, Italy saw one of the smallest increases. The classic Mediterranean diet - pasta, vegetables and fruit - is one of the healthiest in the world.

Fattening up: UK

The UK has the sixth highest BMI in Europe for women and the ninth highest for men (both around 27). The rate of increase has been second only to the US for men. One in four men and one in three women is overweight and about 12 million are obese.

South America's biggest: Chile

Chile with an average BMI of 27.0 for men and 27.9 for women, was the heaviest country in southern Latin America. The scale of increase in obesity in southern Latin America is second only to the US among men and ranks fifth among women. Rates of obesity soared in Chile with the end of its dictatorship in 1990 and a surge in fast food restaurants and some critics are now calling for a junk food tax to be imposed.

World's thinnest: Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the world's thinnest nation, with an average BMI of 20.5 for women and 20.4 for men. Rice is the staple diet and millions go without enough to eat. More than half of children - more than 9 million - are underweight and have stunted growth.

Fattest on earth: Nauru

Nauru is the world's fattest country, with an average BMI of 34 to 35. Located in the south Pacific it is the smallest island nation, with a population of less than 10,000. Obesity has grown as a result of the importation of Western foods paid for with proceeds from phosphate mining. The most popular dish is fried chicken and cola.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent