The World Health Organization formally recognized the global nature of the obesity epidemic in 1997. As of 2005 the WHO estimates that at least 400 million adults (9.8%) are obese, with higher rates among women than men. The rate of obesity also increases with age at least up to 50 or 60 years old. Once considered a problem only of high-income countries, obesity rates are rising worldwide. These increases have been felt most dramatically in urban settings. The only remaining region of the world were obesity is not common is sub-Saharan Africa.

South Pacific

Many of the island nations of the South Pacific have very high rates of obesity. Nauru has the highest rates of obesity in the world (80%) followed by Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Cook Islands. Being big has traditionally been associated with health, beauty, and status and many of these beliefs remain prevalent today.


Studies conducted in 2006 found that close to 52% of Australian women and up to 67% of Australian men aged 25 or over are overweight or obese.


Because the booming economy has increased average incomes, the population of China has since the 1980s taken up a more sedentary lifestyle and begun consuming more calorie-rich foods. From 1991 to 2004 the percentage of overweight or obese adults increased from 12.9% to 27.3%.


In India urbanization and modernization has been associated with obesity. As of 1999 in northern India 11% of urban women were found to be obese in contrast to 3.7% of rural women. Well women of high socioeconomic class had a rate of obesity of 10.4% as opposed to 0.9% in women of low socioeconomic class. With people moving into urban centers and wealth increasing, concerns about an obesity epidemic in India are growing.

European Union

Between the 1970s and the 2000s, rates of obesity in most European countries have increased. During the 1990s and 2000s the 27 countries making up the EU reported rates of obesity from 10–27% in men and from 10–38% in women.

United Kingdom

In the UK the rate of obesity has increased about fourfold over the last 25 years, reaching current levels of 22%.


Mexico has the second-highest rate of obesity in the developed world, at 24.2% of the population.

United States

The United States has the highest rates of obesity in the developed world. From 1980 to 2002, obesity rates have doubled, reaching the current rate of 32% of the adult population. Rates of obesity vary by ethnicity and gender. In the US, 28% of men and 34% of women are obese, with rates rising to as high as 50% among African American women. The prevalence of class III obesity (BMI ≥40) has increased the most dramatically from 0.78 percent in 1990 to 2.2 percent in 2000.


The number of Canadians who are obese has risen dramatically in recent years. In 2004, direct measurements of height and weight found 23.1% of Canadians older than 18 had a BMI greater than 30. When broken down into degrees of obesity, 15.2% were class I (BMI 30–34.9), 5.1% were class II (BMI 35–39.9), and 2.7%, class III (BMI > 40). This is in contrast to self-reported data the previous year of 15.2% and in 1978/1979 of 13.8%. The greatest increases occurred among the more severe degrees of obesity; class III obesity increased from 0.9% to 2.7% from 1978/1979 to 2004. Obesity in Canada varies by ethnicity; people of Aboriginal origin have a significantly higher rate of obesity (37.6%) than the national average.

Public health

The World Health Organization ( WHO ) predicts that overweight and obesity may soon replace more traditional public health concerns such as undernutrition and infectious diseases as the most significant cause of poor health.

Obesity is a public health and policy problem because of its prevalence, costs, and health effects. Public health efforts seek to understand and correct the environmental factors responsible for the increasing prevalence of obesity in the population. Solutions look at changing the factors that cause excess calorie consumption and inhibit physical activity. Efforts include federally reimbursed meal programs in schools, limiting direct junk food marketing to children, and decreasing access to sweetened beverages in schools. When constructing urban environments, efforts have been made to increase access to parks and to develop pedestrian routes.

Many countries and groups have published reports pertaining to obesity. In 1998 the first US Federal guidelines were published, titled "Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults: The Evidence Report". In 2006 the Canadian Obesity Network published the "Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) on the Management and Prevention of Obesity in Adults and Children". This is a comprehensive evidence-based guideline to address the management and prevention of overweight and obesity in adults and children.

In 2004, the United Kingdom Royal College of Physicians, the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health released the report "Storing up Problems", which highlighted the growing problem of obesity in the UK. The same year, the House of Commons Health Select Committee published its "most comprehensive inquiry ever undertaken" into the impact of obesity on health and society in the UK and possible approaches to the problem. In 2006, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued a guideline on the diagnosis and management of obesity, as well as policy implications for non-healthcare organizations such as local councils. A 2007 report produced by Sir Derek Wanless for the King's Fund warned that unless further action was taken, obesity had the capacity to cripple the National Health Service financially.

History and culture


Obesity is the nominal form of obese which comes from the Latin obēsus, which means "stout, fat, or plump." Ēsus is the past participle of edere (to eat), with ob added to it. In Classical Latin, this verb is seen only in past participial form. Its first attested usage in English was in 1651, in Noah Biggs's Matæotechnia Medicinæ Praxeos.


Discover Alizée!