Over the last 40 years, obesity rates around the world have ballooned. The average adult today is 3x as likely to be obese compared to the average adult in 1975.
This map shows how it happened, country-by-country.
The color of each county represents its adult obesity rate in the year shown. Hover over a country to see what its obesity rate was in 1975 and what it is today.
Without exception, obesity rates have risen in every country around the world.
At the low end is North Korea, where obesity rates are up about 1% (from 1.6% in 1975 to 2.8% today). Japan is also near the bottom with a mere 2% increase since 1975 (from 1.1% to 3.3%).
The largest changes occurred in smaller Pacific Island countries. Samoa, Tonga, and Tukalu all saw their obesity rates increase by more than 20%, a doubling of what they were in 1975.
That country that struck me most of all was China. In 1975, only 0.5% of Chinese adults were obese. Today, China’s obesity rate is about 8%. At China’s current population, the difference amounts to over 100 million people.
How global obesity has changed since 1975
The data for the map comes from an extensive study published earlier this year in The Lancet.
The researchers compiled data from 1,698 obesity-related studies, covering 19.2 million people in 186 countries. They then used the information to estimate the distribution of body mass index (BMI) for every country in the world, for every year from 1975 to 2014.
Between 1975 and 2014, the study estimates that worldwide age-standardized obesity rates (defined as a BMI of 30 or greater) increased from 3.2% to 10.8% for men, and from 6.4% to 14.9% for women.
Put a different way, in 1975 there were 105 million obese adults in the world. Today there are 641 million. (During the same period the world population increased from 4 billion to 7.2 billion).
The study also estimates that 2.3% of the world’s men and 5% of the world’s women are severely obese. In 1975, the prevalence of severe obesity was just a fraction of 1% for both genders.
Obesity by country and gender
The chart below shows the age standardized obesity rates in 2014, broken down by country and gender. It includes all countries with a population of 10 million or greater.
There are some clear patterns by region. In Europe and the U.S., obesity rates for men and women are roughly equal. In southern African countries, Women have obesity rates that are on average 20% higher than obesity rates for men.
The study also makes a prediction of what global obesity may look like in the future.
If the post-2000 trends continue, by 2025, it projects a worldwide obesity rate of 18% for men and 21% for women. Of those, it estimates 6% of men and 9% of women will be severely obese.
For a related map showing the rise of U.S. obesity state-by-state, check out American Obesity in 4 Graphics. If you still haven’t have your fill of obesity maps, see what the world’s obese population looks like visualized as a cartogram (aka obesochart).
- Obesity-related data comes from Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014, downloadable in tabular format from ncdrisc.org. Population estimates and gender ratios come from World Bank Open Data.
- The figures visualized in the map are the average of the male and female obesity rates, weighted by each country’s year-specific gender ratio.
- To see how the country’s rank in terms of obesity rate, see the table on the Get the Data page.
I'm fascinated by data visualization and the ways that data is transforming our understanding of the world. I spend a lot of time with my face buried in Excel, and when I find something interesting I write about it here and as a contributor for the Huffington Post.
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