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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SharePoint Engineer - Bishop's Stortford

    £30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organ...

    Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

    £35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

    Year 5 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering