Which health risk factor, physical inactivity or sugar consumption, is more closely correlated to rising obesity rates in the US, Canada, and western EU? To explore this, I collected health data from the World Health Organization (obesity data and physical inactivity data) and the GapMinder Foundation (sugar consumption data). I’ve explored the sugar consumption data in previous articles so I wanted to see how physical inactivity correlated to rising obesity rates.

Physical Inactivity Correlation to Obesity Rate


The US is the most obese country in this data set. What was surprising to me is how inactive the UK is. This might help explain why they’re the second highest obesity rate in this data set despite having a relatively low sugar consumption.

Sugar Consumption Correlation to Obesity Rate


It’s a bit difficult to make any clear judgements about direct correlation of either of these two variables to obesity rate. There are likely several more variables at play. But what I notice here is the countries with the lowest obesity rates; Italy, France, Sweden, and The Netherlands.  The Netherlands for example has fourth highest sugar consumption but perhaps that is offset by being the most physically active in the data set. Italy is the second-most inactive country in this data set but they also have the lowest sugar consumption. So, it seems possible that a combination of these two variables together has a higher correlation to obesity rate than either separately.

Next step in this series of data visualizations is to look at heart disease and cancer mortality as they correlate to various risk factors.

Here’s the raw dataset if anyone is interested in exploring more on their own – such as this one from @Biff_Bruise.

Country	Obesity Rate	Sugar Consumption	Physical Inactivity
United States of America	31.8	191.78	40.5
Germany	21.3	123.29	28
France	15.6	109.59	33
United Kingdom	24.9	112.33	66.5
Italy	17.2	84.93	54.7
Canada	24.3	172.6	35.7
Spain	24.1	93.15	52.1
Netherlands	16.2	142.47	18.2
Sweden	16.6	128.77	47.1
Norway	19.8	120.55	44.2
Belgium	19.1	150.69	42.7
Austria	18.3	123.29	34.8
Portugal	21.6	93.15	51

Data Sources

Sugar Consumption – GapMinder – 2004

Obesity Data – Prevalence of obesity, BMI ≥ 30 World Health Organization – 2008

Percentage of defined population with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or higher. Based on measured height and weight. Definition source.

Physical Inactivity Data – Prevalence of insufficient physical activity World Health Organization – 2008

Percent of defined population attaining less than 5 times 30 minutes of moderate activity per week, or less than 3 times 20 minutes of vigorous activity per week, or equivalent. Based on self-reported physical activity captured using the GPAQ (Global Physical Activity Questionnaire), the IPAQ (International Physical Activity Questionnaire) or a similar questionnaire covering activity at work/in the household, for transport, and during leisure time. Definition source.