Ready for some startling statistics? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 350 million people worldwide are obese--a dangerous trend that may increase their risk for diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers. But fortunately, there's a flip side: Many international hotspots boast extremely low obesity rates. Why the dramatic dichotomy? Read on as we reveal weighty secrets from the 10 fattest and fittest places around the globe.


5 Fattest Spots in the World


These areas are among the heaviest on the planet, if WHO data on obesity rates are any indication.

  1. South Pacific Islands. Apparently, there's trouble in paradise. Several South Pacific islands, such as Tahiti, Fiji, and Samoa, are emerging as the fattest spots in the world. According to experts, cultural views about food representing prosperity are partly to blame. In addition, studies released in 2004 by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity suggest that there may be a genetic component. The researchers believe that through the natural selection process, South Pacific Islanders may have developed "the thrifty gene," which enabled their ancestors to store fat more efficiently in times of starvation and hardship.
  2. United States. With the massive consumption of cheeseburgers, milkshakes, and everything fried, is it any wonder that nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population is overweight or obese? In fact, America is literally putting its money where its mouth is--spending an estimated $124 billion a year on fast food alone.
  3. Argentina. Perhaps it's the country's generous consumption of white bread or the fact that empanadas (often made with lard), locro (a mixture of corn, beans, meat, bacon, onion, and gourd), and sweetbread (made from the thymus glands of lamb, beef, or pork) are popular dinnertime staples. Either way, 69.4 percent of Argentineans are overweight or obese, according to the WHO.
  4. Greece. If you've ever seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know that cuisine plays an important role in the national culture. So, it may come as no surprise that 68.5 percent of Greeks are overweight or obese, according to the WHO. And when it comes to keeping fit, they're literally not budging. An Athens University study found that approximately one-third of men and about half of women admit to not exercising on a regular basis.
  5. New Zealand. A whopping 68.4 percent of New Zealanders are overweight or obese, according to the WHO. Fortunately, the New Zealand Health Strategy launched a plan in 2000 with three direct initiatives: to improve nutrition, to increase physical activity, and to reduce obesity.

5 Fittest Spots in the World

The rest of the world could afford to take a few hints from these next five superspots.

  1. Southeast Asia. Countries such as China, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines boast some of the world's lowest instances of obesity (and not surprisingly, some of the highest life expectancies). Many experts credit the local diet, which consists primarily of healthy, low-calorie vegetables.
  2. Luxembourg and Switzerland. Fitness is such a way of life in these two land-locked countries, it's not uncommon to see locals walking or biking to work. In both Luxembourg and Switzerland, less than 10 percent of the populations are obese, and the average life expectancies are 79.1 and 80.7 years, respectively.
  3. Scandinavia. Seafood, rich in belly-busting omega-3 fatty acids, is a mealtime staple in this region. Perhaps that's why only 10 percent of the Danish population and 6.2 percent of Norwegians are obese, according to the WHO.
  4. Romania. Years of hardship left many Romanians thin and struggling to eat well. Recently accepted as a member of the European Union, Romania's economy is finally beginning to turn around. Romanians now have better access to food choices, but they need to make healthy choices and continue to enjoy traditional meals of grilled foods. Otherwise, their low obesity rate of 7.68 percent could start climbing.
  5. Morocco. Inspired by Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and African fare, Moroccan cuisine is one of the most diverse in the world. It may also be one of the healthiest. And when it comes to flavoring their dishes, Moroccans often turn to healthy, home-grown spices, such as saffron, mint, cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger. Another reason why obesity is so low? Green tea, rich in EGCG (an ingredient that has been extensively studied for its weight-loss benefits), is enjoyed in abundance.