9 Out of 10 Countries Globally With the Most Obesity Are in the Pacific Region, Report


By: Modupe Adeniyi. Freelance Health Reporter


Top 9 most obese nations in the Pacific region

Top 9 most obese nations in the Pacific region. Click on image to enlarge. Adapted from: Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust



Obesity rates are soaring worldwide with 9 out of 10 countries globally with the most obesity located in the Pacific region. The latest data shows over 1 billion people globally living with obesity; a major risk factor for several non-communicable diseases. New cross-sector efforts are however being implemented in the region to address its complex drivers. 


March 11, 2024. Worldwide obesity has reached epidemic levels, more than doubling among adults and quadrupling among children and adolescents (aged 5 – 19 years old) since 1990. [1]


A recent analysis of data obtained from a 2022 study contributed to by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published in The Lancet, revealed that over 1 billion people are living with obesity and 43% of adults are overweight. [2] While the United States leads the eay on obesity rates, in the Pacific region, obesity is reported to have "progressively increased in every age group over recent decades," posing a major public health crisis. [1]


Obese man "The drivers of obesity are complex," explained Dr. Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to the South Pacific. "In many parts of the Pacific, unhealthy food is cheap, convenient and pushed heavily through advertising. Healthy food, on the other hand, may be increasingly difficult to get and more expensive in the face of the droughts, floods and rising seas caused by climate change."


Beyond just diet, Jacobs notes societal factors play a role: "What we eat, how much we eat and whether we are physically active also come down to things like the culture around us and whether there is a safe and comfortable place to exercise."


Obesity significantly raises the risk of deadly non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. "Not only does this threaten lives and affect quality of life, it stands in the way of economic goals by reducing the number of years that people can play an active part in the workforce," according to the Lancet report.


Health leaders in the region acknowledge that previous efforts have been insufficient, with progress not fast enough. A major challenge is that many of the factors contributing to rising rates of obesity are out of the control of those working in the health sector.


At a meeting last September, Pacific Health Ministers committed to eight new actions taking a "whole-of-government and whole-of-society" approach to tackle the obesity problem in the region. The actions involve engaging other government ministries, particularly the ministries of environment, trade, finance, customs, agriculture, fisheries and social development as well as empowering networks and organizations already working at the community level.


As advised by the WHO, specific initiatives within the program of actions should focus on:


  • Increasing prices of unhealthy foods through taxes.
  • Making healthy food and drinks cheaper and easier to access.
  • Supporting healthy eating habits in pregnancy as well as ensuring exclusive breastfeeding of infants throughout the first six months of life.
  • Regularly monitoring children’s height and weight to ensure healthy childhood and development.
  • Shifting cultural norms around what a good meal is by serving healthy food and drinks to families and friends.
  • Creating safe and exercise-friendly environments..


"It's only by working together across the whole of government and across the whole of society, that we will be able to halt the rising rates of obesity," Dr. Jacobs emphasized. 


Through inter-ministerial collaboration across key sectors, Pacific nations aim to tackle the multifaceted drivers behind the growing obesity epidemic. They also recognise that curbing obesity will require comprehensive policy changes alongside cultural shifts with the aim of promoting healthier lifestyles for all ages.



1. World Health Oraganiztion (WHO): News release. March 4, 2024. Available from: https://www.who.int/westernpacific/about/how-we-work/pacific-support/news/detail/04-03-2024-study-finds-pacific-accounts-for-9-of-the-10-most-obese-countries-in-the-world

2. The Lancet. Worldwide trends in underweight and obesity from 1990 – 2022. Feb. 29, 2024. Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(23)02750-2/fulltext



Published: March 11, 2024

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