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Living Skinny: 10 Thinnest Countries in the World

It’s no secret that obesity is a problem in the U.S., which might get Americans thinking: Which countries have the slimmest populations? Before dreaming of moving to one of them, though, know that only two countries are thin despite having a good food supply.

Ranking Thinness

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WorldAtlas analyzed global obesity rates by nation to determine the ten thinnest countries on Earth. Here’s what they found.

#1: Vietnam

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Vietnam has a population of about 100 million, of which only 2.1% are obese. Poverty rates in Vietnam are high but dropping; they moved from 16.8% to 5% between 2010 and 2020. Vietnamese food is rich in waist-friendly foods, including vegetables, fish, and broth-based soups.

#2: Bangladesh

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Bangladesh’s obesity rate is a mere 3.6%. Malnutrition is rampant in Bangladesh. Poor nutrition during childhood accounts for approximately 36% of stunted growth in children under five years old. Approximately one in five adult Bangladeshi women is underweight, with a BMI under 18.5.

#3: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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Timor-Leste’s food supply situation is about as grave as Bangladesh’s, and it has an obesity rate of just 0.2% higher. This country, which goes by the name East Timor in English, has one of the lowest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the world. A suffering economy and rocky political system have caused widespread hunger.

#4: India

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Despite being notorious for delicious food, India’s obesity rate is only 3.9%. Millions of Indians are underweight, with approximately 16.3% of the population suffering from undernourishment. Unlike certain other countries on this list, India struggles more with food distribution than food production. Approximately 70% of households in rural areas survive off farming.

#5: Cambodia

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Cambodia and India are tied for fourth and fifth place, for Cambodia also has a 3.9% obesity rate. Undernutrition from a lack of sufficient food production is a significant issue. Zinc, B vitamins, and iodine deficiencies are widespread in Cambodia, as much of the food locals eat is deficient in these nutrients.

#6: Nepal

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Landlocked Nepal has an obesity rate of 4.1%. According to Action Against Hunger, approximately one-third of Nepalese live below the poverty line. Low agricultural production and political conflicts contribute to the challenges of growing food there.

#7: Japan

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You can breathe a sigh of relief — the Japanese’s slim figure has little to do with poverty and almost everything to do with their diet. Japan’s low 4.3% obesity rate is attributed to the Japanese eating small portions with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and fermented food.

#8: Ethiopia

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Only 4.5% of Ethiopians are obese, with the prevalence of underweight people being 15.8%. Drought is one of Ethiopia’s biggest contributors to food scarcity, with climate change accelerating the already grave problem.

#9: South Korea

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South Korea joins Japan as one of only two developed nations on this list. You might notice more obese citizens in South Korea than in Japan, though, as their obesity rate is 4.7%. That’s still a small number compared to most developing countries. The Koreans’ whole food, low-fat diet is to thank.

#10: Eritrea

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Don’t let Eritrea’s 5% obesity rate fool you. Eritreans suffer from hunger, with more than 66% living below the poverty line. War, drought, and tricky political situations causing international aid organizations to sometimes have trouble delivering food have wreaked havoc on the health of Eritreans.

The Fat Irony

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WorldAtlas’ data used obesity numbers to rank countries with the thinnest populations. By doing so, they’ve implied that obesity equates to health. Instead, high rates of obesity can indicate that a country has a secure food supply. Most people from developing countries can attest that an abundance of food doesn’t always translate to a healthy population.

11th to 15th Thinnest Countries

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Below are the countries that ranked 11 to 15 in WorldAtlas’ analysis:

  • 11th: Sri Lanka
  • 12th: Uganda
  • 13th: Madagascar
  • 14th: Laos
  • 15th: Burundi

16th to 20th Thinnest Countries

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And here are the countries that came in 16th to 20th place:

  • 16th: Niger
  • 17th: Afghanistan
  • 18th: Burkina Faso
  • 19th: Rwanda
  • 20th: Malawi

Feeding the World

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According to the United Nations (UN), farmers produce enough food to feed the world’s population. The issue? Getting food to people in disadvantaged areas and people having the money to purchase it.

The Good(ish) News

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In the past two decades, the UN reports that there’s been a nearly 50% decrease in the number of people who aren’t getting enough to eat. That said, the global population has risen by about two billion during that time, skewing the numbers. Nevertheless, economic growth and agricultural productivity have helped many regions reduce extreme hunger for their citizens.

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