According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, pint-size weight problems have become a global crisis. The latest obesity update from the group, which tackles the economic and social challenges of the modern world, reveals sobering health data: One in five children ages five to 17 living in one of the 34 OECD nations is overweight or obese. The report ties the increase in kids’ weight to the global economic collapse. With rising unemployment, government cutbacks, and strapped household budgets, families can’t afford healthy food options. Surprise! Even though Americans are known for our heft, we don’t have the largest percentage of overweight or obese kids.
A whopping 44 percent of boys and 38 percent of girls in the Mediterranean nation are overweight or obese, making Greek kids the fattest in the world. Are all the gyros and feta-drenched salads to blame? The OECD pegs Greece’s bulging waistlines to its draconian austerity measures, which have led to tightened household budgets. With less cash for healthy fruits and vegetables (and all that olive oil), Greek families are turning to inexpensive processed and prepackaged meals.
People around the world copy Italy’s Mediterranean diet, but the nation’s citizens are increasingly turning away from the traditional produce-based, slow food regimen that’s kept them fit for centuries. Thanks to a newfound love of fast food coupled with couch-potato tendencies, 36 percent of Italian boys and 34 percent of girls are overweight or obese.
3. New Zealand
Kiwi kids are the fattest in the Australasia region, with 34 percent of boys and girls in the overweight or obese range. Because two-thirds of New Zealand’s adults are classed as obese or overweight, the kids are just eating what their parents serve—too much fast food and processed junk.
The traditional Slovenian diet has its share of fruits and veggies and healthy fish, but the country was deeply affected in 2012 by Europe’s economic crisis. Now the once prosperous nation has been hard-hit by austerity measures. The result? Thirty-two percent of boys and 23 percent of girls are overweight or obese.
5. United States
Applause: American kids aren’t the fattest in the world. They’re just the fifth most overweight or obese. Despite that dubious distinction, the OECD’s data still shows that 30 percent of boys and girls in the U.S. weigh more than they should. With those kinds of numbers, perhaps Congress should stop giving Michelle Obama such a hard time about her efforts to make school lunches healthier.
In 2013, data from the United Nations revealed that Mexico had topped the United States as the fattest country in the world. So it’s no surprise that our North American neighbor has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity. The usual suspects—processed, calorie-rich food and a population that has less to spend at the grocery store—are to blame. Soda consumption is also insanely high in Mexico: The average per capita consumption was 43 gallons per year in 2011. That’s not going to help the 28 percent of Mexican boys and 29 percent of girls who are overweight or obese.
Restaurants in Spain serve an inexpensive dessert called torreja, which is like a piece of French toast that’s been deep-fried. It’s über-greasy (and very tasty), but eating that treat isn’t the only reason 26 percent of Spanish boys and 24 percent of girls are overweight or obese. Like the other nations on this list, a turn away from traditional home-cooked meals and a lack of exercise is causing the hefty problem.
Mexico and the U.S. couldn’t be the only North American nations with childhood obesity problems. Too many Canadian kids have also packed on the pounds: 25 percent of boys and 24 percent of girls are in the overweight or obese range.
9. South Korea
Rates of obesity in South Korea are among the lowest of the OECD nations—about 30 percent of adults are overweight, and 4 percent are classified as obese. But unless the Asian nation starts feeding its children a healthier diet, those numbers are sure to grow. According to the OECD, 20 percent of South Korean boys and 24 percent of girls are overweight or obese.
Should we blame the hummus and falafel pitas? Israel rounds out the top 10, proving that access to a traditional Mediterranean diet can’t compensate for the effects of junk food. Twenty-four percent of the nation’s boys and 20 percent of girls are overweight or obese.