Valentina Romei Countries’ average body mass: a weighty subject

Today, World Diabetes Day, is a good time to look at what countries weigh. Not in economic heft or population numbers, but the actual physical weight of their population.

Specifically, we established countries’ share of the global population and their share of global weight (using data on their average body mass index (BMI) and their average height for the male population over 20 years old). Then we calculated the difference between these two measures.

The weightiest countries are the US, Mexico and Brazil: their share of the total global body mass is bigger than their proportion of the global population. All three countries have an average body mass index of above 25, which corresponds to being overweight.

Taller people tend to be heavier, so countries with plenty of beanpoles often have higher total body masses. Because it has high average height and a large population, the US has the largest difference in the world between population and body mass. The only countries with higher average BMI than the US are some small island nations such as Nauru, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

Headcount and body mass difference

At the bottom of the chart is India. The country has the lowest body mass index – only 21 – of all the populous countries, and it has 10th skinniest population in the world, after a handful of Asian and African countries including Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

China is even more populated than India, with over 1.3 bn people in 2010, but the difference between its headcount and body mass is not as large. This is despite the Chinese average height being lower than the global average; the average body mass of the Chinese compensates by scoring a healthy 22.9. Overall the Chinese are not as skinny as the Indian population.

According to our analysis obesity is not strongly associated with economic power. Many low-income and emerging countries have large average body masses, including Venezuela, Argentina and Hungary – all have average body masses of above 27 on the index.

Conversely, thinner populations tend to be correlated with poorer countries – with the exception of Japan, the only advanced country with average body mass of below 24.