Obesity Prevalence vs Its Death Rates

Total worldwide obesity count has nearly tripled since 1975. Each year at least 2.8 million adults die as a result of being overweight or obese, peaking in the year 2016 where an estimated 4.8 million deaths were attributed to obesity. Surprisingly, the death rate from obesity is not highest among countries with the highest share of obesity within their populations. For example, the United States, New Zealand and Fiji are among the countries with the highest share of obese adults in their populations, with 30% — 35% obese adults, yet they are not the ones to have the highest death rates attributed to obesity. In fact, the country with the highest rate of obesity in 2016 was the United States at 36 percent, but its death rate attributed to obesity was not the highest amongst the world’s countries, at 14 percent, compared to Egypt which had a 20 percent death rate attributed to obesity.

Rate of Obesity; source: https://ourworldindata.org/obesity
Deaths Attributed to Obesity, source: https://ourworldindata.org/obesity

Below is a chart of all the countries of the world plotting their income against their life expectancies. The varying sizes of the circles represent their population sizes. In this chart I highlighted the countries with the highest death rates due to obesity and kept other countries faded to make it easier to differentiate between them

Countries and Their Incomes

From the charts we can infer that obesity death rates are highest among middle-income countries. Their death rates are highest even though their populations are not the most obese in the world can be because high-income countries with an even higher obesity rate have better healthcare systems that can better manage obese individuals and as a result have lower obesity death rates. In 2016, the country with the highest death rate attributed to obesity was Egypt, a middle-income country, at 20 percent, with a population that was 32 percent obese. While most high-income countries have about an 8 to 10% death rate attributed to obesity, middle-income countries’ obesity death rates were almost double that at around 15%.

Saudi Arabia is an outlier in that its death rate attributed to obesity is high even though its income is almost the same as the US. This could be due to the fact that Saudi Arabia, though rich, doesn’t focus much on healthcare managing obesity.

From the chart we also come to the conclusion that obesity prevalence and deaths are virtually non-existence in poor or developing countries. The reason for this is simply that people in these countries are more likely to worry about having a full meal than having the disposable income to buy extra calorie foods. From this we can safely assume that obesity is an entirely preventable condition because it’s only present in countries that have the means to afford excess high-calorie foods that contribute to their obesity rate.

Takeaway

Reading all the charts together we can reasonably conclude that being obese in a poorer country increases your chance of dying from causes related to being overweight. Your chances of dying form being obese is cut in half by living in a higher income country.

Weight is definitely not a total indicator of health but it does seem to correlate with being healthy in general, which is why numerous world health organizations encourage countries to keep their populations weight within a normal range. Fortunately, since its peak in 2016 the rate of obesity worldwide has begun to level and even started to slowly descend.

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