Happiness Quotient vs. Obesity, Continued

Some national populations have a fortunate genetic heritage that leaves their feel-good genes unfettered, making them happy countries, and we are looking at the inner workings of this phenomenon, with an eye to comparing the happiest with the least obese, to see how much overlap there might be.

To many researchers, it seems self-evident that life problems cause psychological distress, which in turn causes people to overeat and put on unhealthy and unwanted weight. So, people who have the A allele in their FAAH gene, allowing natural happiness, should logically be more likely to have a healthy weight. But that is proposed with many reservations.

Okay, a couple of caveats

Go ahead and take this with many grains of salt. For one thing, a country does not necessarily have a low average Body Mass Index because the people are weight-conscious self-actualizers who eat clean and work out regularly. It might be that they are poor and hungry, in a famine-stricken area.

Also, bureaucracies create hidden variables. Statistics go through many stages before being officially tabulated, and perhaps after. Some studies actually measure and weigh people, while others use self-reported data. In the USA alone, how many people have a driver’s license that reflects their actual weight, hmmm? Still, a comparison of numbers does give a general idea of how things tend to be.

And of course, many other circumstances enter the mix. Weather, natural disasters, war, political unrest during peacetime, prosperity or lack thereof, and on and on.

Who’s who?

Researchers quoted in the previous Childhood Obesity News post used numbers from 2012-2014 to determine that the 15 happiest countries during that period were (starting with the happiest):

Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Costa Rica, Austria, Mexico, United States.

They should be the 15 least obese, right? Or at least a pretty close correlation?

The Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, as archived by the Wayback Machine, used obesity statistics gathered in 2015 and 2016 (just after the time period as mentioned above). National populations are represented by the percentage of adults considered to be obese, and ranked from most obese to least obese. So in this scheme, the higher the ranking number, the less obese.

It is kind of a confusing mess, which only goes to show that plenty of additional factors, other than a low Body Mass Index, must figure into happiness.

Let’s also throw in a few countries mentioned by other researchers (World Values Surveys) as experiencing superlative happiness. Ghana has a low obesity rate, with only 10% of adults considered obese. In Nigeria, only 8% of adults are considered obese. In those cases, low obesity does line up with high happiness. But in Colombia, 22% of adults are obese. And they are just as happy as the people of Ghana and Nigeria, where less than half as many adults are obese.

Again, it seems obvious that plenty of other factors are in play, because while happiness sometimes matches up with low obesity, in other cases it does not.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The happiest countries in the world, according to neuroscientists, statisticians, and economists,” BusinessInsider.com, 04/23/15
Source: “Country Comparison,” The World Factbook, archived
Source: “Genes may contribute to making some nations happier than others,” ScienceDaily.com, 01/14/16
Image by Taro the Shiba Inu/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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