Nauru, formerly known as Pleasant Island, is an island country in Micronesia in the Central Pacific. Its nearest neighbour is Banaba Island in Kiribati, 300 kilometres (186 mi) to the east. With 9,378 residents in a 21-square-kilometre (8.1 sq mi) area, Nauru is the smallest state in the South Pacific and second smallest state by population in the world, behind only the Vatican City.
Obesity in Nauru is a major health concern for the nation. In 2007 Forbes.com reported that, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest estimate, Nauru has the highest percentage of overweight inhabitants among all countries. The estimation identified 94.5% of its residents as overweight. The obesity rate is 71.7%, the highest in the world. The average body weight among Nauruans is estimated to be approximately 100 kilograms (220 lb).
Before Nauru gained independence in 1968, there was a culture of fishing and gardening. The then Nauruan diet was composed of marine fish, fruits, root vegetables, and coconuts. As per the analysis by Asahi Shimbun correspondent Takkaki Nishiyama, black-and-white-photographs taken during this time depict well-built and fit men and women. But after Nauru gained independence, there was a major economic growth resulting from mining. The profits from the mining activities were distributed among the citizens and Nauru’s per capita income became very high. As a consequence people did not feel the need to work.
According to a study conducted by the Government of Nauru and the WHO,the import of western food significantly reduced the existing culture of fishing and gardening, and from the 1980s, Nauruans were used to a lifestyle marked by an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle. This resulted in what the study described as “the worst health conditions in the Pacific region”. 90% of the land area of Nauru is covered with phosphate deposits. A land with phosphate deposits is inarable. This is why Nauru has very little arable land and relies on importing processed food, which is high in both sugar and fat, from large Oceanian countries like Australia and New Zealand.
Apart from unhealthy diet, lack of physical exercise, and lack of proper health education, cultural attitude towards obesity has played an important role in the high obesity rate in the country. According to the University of Queensland professor and South Pacific researcher Clive Moore, obesity is seen as a sign of wealth in Nauru. As a consequence of high rate of obesity, Nauru has the highest rate of adult diabetes in the world. The International Diabetes Federation identified 31% of Nauruans as diabetic. This rate is as high as 45% among the age group 55-64.