Though we doubt anyone would argue that the USA and Australia both have serious weight problems, when it comes to world's fattest countries, neither of us are even in the top ten!!

This fact is both quite the relief and a little terrifying, especially considering that other nations may well be becoming more obese specifically because they've adopted more of the Western world's problematic dietary habits.

While we once thought of obesity as a problem that presented primarily in the developed world, it is now starting to materialize and even dominate in underdeveloped and developing nations. For instance, all but one of the world's ten fattest countries (the exception being Kuwait) hail from the South Pacific region.

World's Fattest Countries, 2019

1. Nauru (Average BMI: 32.5)

2. Tonga (Average BMI: 31.9)

3. Samoa (Average BMI: 31.7)

4. Kuwait (Average BMI: 30)

5. Saint Kitts and Nevis (Average BMI: 29.7)

6. Saint Lucia (Average BMI: 29.6)

7. Kiribati (Average BMI: 29.6)

8. Palau (Average BMI: 29.4)

9. Micronesia (Average BMI: 29.4)

10. Tuvalu (Average BMI: 29.3)

Some scientists suggest that islanders may have a genetic predispostion to put on weight, which probably developed over years of surviving the harsh conditions, frequent famines, and long months at sea that came with an island lifestyle. This may well be true, but a far bigger driver of the South Pacific obesity epidemic seems to be the widespread cultural changes that have taken place there in recent years. After all, the rate of obesity seems to have risen rapidly as islanders' diets changed. Fresh food was gradually shunned in favor of cheaper processed food and fatty imported meat, foods that were also considered exotic and therefore more special and superior to healthier and plainer traditional island food. Unfortunately, these islanders were also woefully undereducated about the danger of such a diet, which also tends to be deficient in many micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Not just obesity but nutritional problems like anemia, iodine deficiency, and Vitamin A deficiency are also worrisomely common in many South Pacific countries.

At the same time, many islanders transitioned from doing physical labor to working desk jobs as their economy modernized, and they gained more access to cars and buses (as opposed to relying on walking.) These islands' hot climates also made exercising for leisure unappealing and difficult.

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Unfortunately, islander's waistlines have been paying the price, as has their health. These days, obesity prevalence in the South Pacific ranges from 30-90 percent throughout different areas of the region, and the rates of obesity-related illnesses have been steadily rising among islanders as well.

For instance, one in three residents of the American Samoa suffer from diabetes, with the illness sometimes affecting whole families and emerging even in children younger than ten. Considering that one in five children across the country are obese, this is almost unsurprising.

In Tonga, though only seven percent of residents suffered from diabetes in 1973, by 2004, the figure was up to eighteen percent. Today, it may be as high as forty. Similarly, up to 45 percents of adults in Naaru are diabetic. Compared to only a 13 percent prevalence of diabetes in the mainland USA, these statistics are pretty startling ones!

Throughout the entire region, as many as 40 percent of the population altogether suffers from a weight-related illness like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. These conditions also account for around 75 percent of the regions' deaths and around 50 percent of its healthcare costs. The life expectancy has also slid substantially in many South Pacific countries, for instance from the mid-70s to 64 in Tonga.

The South Pacific's obesity problem may also have been exacerbated by cultural differences between their region and ours, such as their penchant for feasting and their historically greater acceptance of larger bodies, which were formerly associated with wealth and a higher social status.

Since obesogenic conditions hit the South Pacific much faster than they hit the United States, where they emerged much more gradually, these countries didn't have time to build up the societal countermeasures to obesity that we did, like increased focus on fitness and living a healthy lifestyle.

The prevalence of obesity in the South Pacific region isn't the only interesting fact revealed by the lastest demographic insights into worldwide obesity.  For instance, it may be worth noting that in all 25 of the world's fattest countries, there were more obese women than obese men.

Some of this may come down to metabolic differences between men and women, but it may also relate to social factors; for example, the fact that women, who may well be responsible for child-rearing and homemaking as well as contributing to a household income, may simply have less time and energy to devote to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

As for where we rank in the grand scheme of things? Australia was actually quite a ways down the list at number 41, despite the fact that about 67 percent of its adults are overweight. Meanwhile, the USA was the fattest country in North America, but it ranked a slightly less dismal 12th place worldwide. Still, maybe we both ought to make an effort to clean up our act before our unhealthy ways corrupt anyplace else!

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