What Is Considered Fat in South Korea?

Did you know: The average female K-Pop idol is ~165 cm tall (5’5″) and weighs only ~45 kg (99 lbs). Now that’s slim! In a country with strict beauty standards and thin celebrities like this, have you ever wondered what counts as “fat” in South Korea?

According to numerous Koreans interviewed, the “ideal weight” for Korean women is in the 40s or low 50s in kilograms—roughly 90 to 120 pounds. Above that range is considered chubby or even fat by many Koreans. However, it depends on your height. More discussion below (including about men).

In addition to quotes from people living in South Korea, we’ll look at real statistics about average weight in South Korea, average Body Mass Index, and the Korean obesity rate.

What’s the “Ideal Weight” in South Korea?

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

“What’s the Ideal Weight for Korean Girls?” This was one of the most interesting street interview videos on this topic.

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

  • One woman said she’s 160 cm (5’3″) tall and 50 kg (110 lbs), and she is considered “pretty chubby” in South Korea. She is sometimes told that she should lose some weight. She said a lot of Korean women want to be in the 45 to 50 kg range (99 to 110 lbs), unless you’re very tall. (source)
  • Another woman said that the most preferred weights for South Korean women are in the 40s and 50s kg (88 to 132 lbs). (source)
  • Another woman said that the standard of being ~40 kg (88 lbs) is from the past, and today more Koreans prefer a “healthy” body type with a little more fat. That woman said she is 160 cm (5’3″) and tries to maintain her weight at 42-43 kg (~92 lbs). (source)
  • One woman said, if she weighed more than 51 kg (112 lbs), she would “look fat.” (She did not specify her height.) (source)
  • One woman said that low 50s kg is generally considered ideal weight for Korean girls (110 to 117 lbs). Another woman agreed, saying her ideal weight is 52-53 kg (116 lbs). She said all the hottest girls she follows on Instagram are 50-53 kg, so that’s what she’s aiming for, too. (source)
  • One woman said she is ~167 cm (5’6″) tall, and she needs to weight around 47-49 kg (about 106 lbs) to have the slim physique she wants. (source)
  • Another woman said she is 165 cm (5’5″), and her target weight is 50 kg (110 lbgs). She also shared a formula to determine your ideal weight, which we’ll look at in the next section below. (source)
  • One woman living in Korea said she heard a story of a Korean guy saying that women need to be in the low 40s kg to be “skinny.” (source)

As you can see, the “ideal weight” for South Korea women seems to be perceived to be in the 40s or low 50s in kilograms, which is roughly 90 to 120 pounds.

However, “ideal weight” obviously depends on your height. And that’s where the formula below comes in.

Formula for a Woman’s “Ideal Weight” in South Korea

In one of the street interviews mentioned above, a Korean woman shared the formula to find your ideal weight as a Korean girl.

The formula is simple: Take your height in centimeters, subtract 115, and the answer is your ideal weight in kilograms.

For example, if you’re 165 cm tall (5’5″), then you would subtract 115 from 165 to get 50. So, 50 kg is your ideal weight according to this formula.

The woman in the video said this formula is used by Korean dancers. She said that for ballet, the formula is your height minus 120, but for other kinds of dancers, it’s your height minus 115.

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

What Is South Korea’s Normal Weight?

AI-generated image of a male K-pop idol.

The average weight in South Korea is 74.7 kg (165 lbs) for men and 61.0 kg (134 lbs) for women. This data is sourced from a study published by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration.

For a quick comparison, this means Korean men and women are both about 16 kg (35 pounds) lighter than American men and women on average.

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

What Is the Average BMI in South Korea?

The average adult Body Mass Index (BMI) in South Korea is 23.9. Broken down by gender, it is 24.3 for males and 23.4 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 South Korea below. But for now, let’s see how South Korea’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, South Korea 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 South Korea?

Internationally, a BMI of 25+ is generally overweight, and 30+ is obese. However, Asian countries sometimes use lower cut-off numbers. So, why is that, and what is considered “obese” in Korea?

I was able to find multiple research studies that categorize a 25+ BMI as obese in South Korea (here and here). This is in line with the “Asia-Pacific BMI classifications.” (source)

What’s the reason? Well, it’s not just some kind of fat-phobia. Research 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 Asian 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 South Korea?

The adult obesity rate in South Korea is only 4.7% according to the CIA World Factbook. Only about 1 in 21 South Korean adults are obese. This makes obesity somewhat rare in South Korea.

In general, Asian countries have a lot less obesity than North America, Europe, and other regions. But even within Asia, South Korea is one of the countries with the least obesity.

Here you can see how South Korea 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 South Korea a thin country? South Korea is a relatively thin country. The average BMI and obesity rate in South Korea both illustrate this.

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