What Is Considered Fat in China?

Here’s a question for you: If a woman weighs 50 kg (110 lbs) at 160 cm (5’5″) tall, is she “fat”? In America, the answer would be “No way!” And in fact, the question itself is a bit rude. But in China, some people would say “Yes.”

Today, we’re looking at what is considered “fat” in China. Obviously, personal opinions will always vary—but by referencing enough quotes and data points, we can get a pretty good picture.

According to various Chinese women interviewed, the “ideal weight” for Chinese women is generally in the 40s or low 50s in kilograms, which is about 90 to 120 pounds. Above that range may be considered somewhat fat by many Chinese people. However, it depends on your height..

Below, we’ll look at quotes from people living in China, along with real statistics of average weight and Body Mass Index in China (for both men and women), and the Chinese obesity rate.

What’s the “Ideal Weight” in China?

Let’s start by referring to some street interviews in China about what is considered fat, skinny, and the “ideal weight.” This way, we can hear direct quotes from Chinese people about specific body weights.

“Over 50kg is Fat for Chinese Girls?” Several women in China answer what weight would be considered fat for a 160 cm (5’5″) tall woman.

Most street interviews focus on the weight of women in China, not men. Here are some of the specific female body weights mentioned in these videos:

  • One Chinese woman said her ideal weight is 40 kg (88 lbs). (source)
  • Another said she wanted to get back to her “high school weight” of 44 kg (97 lbs). (source)
  • Another woman said 48 kg (106 lbs) is her ideal weight. (source)
  • One Chinese woman said that for a 160 cm (5’5″) woman, over 52.5 kg (116 lbs) is a little fat. (source)
  • Another woman said that for a 160 cm (5’5″) woman, 50 kg (110 lbs) is fat. (source)
  • Another woman thinks between 50 and 55 kg is “ok” for a 160 cm (5’5″) woman. However, she admitted that many Chinese women prefer to be thinner, even as low as 40 kg (88 lbs) at that height. (source)

As you can see, the “ideal weight” for Chinese women seems to be perceived to be in the 40s or possibly low 50s in kilograms, which is roughly 90 to 120 pounds. However, “ideal weight” obviously depends on height and potentially other factors.

Anyway, now let’s take a look at some actual statistics for body weight in China.

What Is China’s Normal Weight?

The average weight in China is 73.5 kg (162 lbs) for men and 62.2 kg (137 lbs) for women. This data is originally sourced from a study published by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration.

For a quick comparison, this means Chinese men are roughly 17 kg (38 lbs) lighter than American men on average. Chinese women are about 15 kg (33 lbs) lighter than American women on average.

And if you look at average waist sizes, it paints a similar picture. Chinese men have an average waist of 34.3″, which is 5.9″ less than American men. Chinese women have a 31.3″ average waist, which is 7.3″ less than American women. (source)

However, as noted before, body weights also depend on your height. So let’s take a look at Body Mass Index (BMI) scores in China. (BMI takes height into consideration!)

What Is the Average BMI in China?

The average adult Body Mass Index (BMI) in China is 23.9. Broken down by gender, it is 24.2 for males and 23.6 for females.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measurement of a person’s weight-to-height ratio. It doesn’t distinguish between fat and lean mass, so it can’t tell you exactly how much fat you have. But it’s a simple tool used to diagnose overweight and obesity.

We’ll talk more about BMI and obesity in China below. But for now, let’s see how China’s average BMI compares to some other countries around the world:

CountryAverage Adult BMI
United States28.8
South Korea23.9
Average adult BMI by country, 2015. (Source: World Health Organization)

As you can see, China is a relatively “thin” country. It’s not the thinnest in the world, but it’s on that end of the spectrum.

What BMI Is “Obese” in China?

A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 28 or higher is generally considered obese in China. This is a lower cut-off point than in most countries.

Worldwide, a BMI of 25+ is considered overweight, and 30+ is obese. However, as explained in a Harvard article, “China and Japan define overweight as a BMI of 24 or higher and obesity a BMI of 28 or higher.”

And interestingly, the cut-offs in India are even lower yet: 23+ BMI for overweight, 27+ BMI for obese.

What’s the reason? It’s not just fat-phobia. Research actually shows that Asians (and Asian Americans) have sharper increases in diseases like type-2 diabetes risk with added body fat. (source)

That is, the consequence of adding 10 pounds of body fat, for example, seems to be worse for Asians than other ethnicities. And so, accordingly, the targets for “healthy body weight” are sometimes set lower for these countries.

However, this is still a debated issue, and some studies and organizations do not acknowledge the lower BMI cut-offs for Asian countries. (source)

Is Obesity Common in China?

According to the CIA World Factbook, the adult obesity rate in China is 6.2%. Only about 1 in 16 Chinese adults are obese. This makes obesity somewhat rare in China, compared to America and other Western countries.

In general, Asian countries have a lot less obesity than North America, Europe, and other regions. Below, you can see how China compares to other countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia. The least obese countries are at the top of the list:

CountryObesity Rate
South Korea4.7%
Adult obesity rates in East Asia and Southeast Asia, 2016 est. (Source: CIA World Factbook)

Related Questions:

  • Is China a thin country? China is a relatively thin country. The average BMI and obesity rate in China both illustrate this.

Interested in more similar blog posts about China? Check out these posts: