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By the numbers

August 08, 2006|by NICK MOHAR-SCHURZ

What do the United States and a country like Malta have in common? Overweight teens, according to "Pocket World in Figures," a book of statistics published by The Economist magazine.

Malta and the United States are tied as the two countries with the highest percentage of obese 15-year-olds - more than 9 percent of 15-year-old boys and about 5 percent of 15-year-old girls.

Yes, this might be a small world after all, but its ever-changing statistics make it interesting - sometimes humorous.

While the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Afghanistan have the fastest-growing populations (with the UAE growing at an average annual rate of 6.51 percent, according to "Pocket World in Figures"), Bermudians and Bajans (people from Barbados) are busy getting married (and no, not to each other).

Colombians, Libyans, and Mongolians might not fall in love often, but they do have the lowest divorce rates - 0.2 to 0.3 divorces per 1,000 population.

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Jamaicans have found a good median, as they are sixth in highest marriage rates (10.4 per 1,000 people) and fifth in lowest divorce rates (with only 0.4 per 1,000 people). So, when you're having trouble in your marriage, take a Jamaican view: "Don't worry, be happy."

China is the world's leading producer of rice, meat, cereal, fruit and vegetables. This Asian superpower is like a grocery store that employs over 1.3 billion people - that's the population of China, the world's most populous nation. But don't fret, for we aren't dependent on the Chinese for food; along with Russia and Japan, the United States has one of the largest fishing capacities.

Most assume correctly that the United States - with the world's largest economy and third-largest national landmass - has the longest road network, which stretches over 6,400,000 kilometers. But few expect Malawi, with 28,400 kilometers of mostly unpaved roads, to sweep the competition in the number of car-related deaths per vehicle-kilometers traveled. Statistically, 1,117 Malawians are killed per 100 million vehicle-kilometers traveled. To put this in perspective, the U.S. has fewer than 5 deaths per 100 million vehicle-kilometers. Now, when traveling in Africa, you might just want to take the bus.

Luxembourg, Norway and Denmark have some of the wealthiest citizens (based on gross domestic product per person), but these nations also shell out high percentages of their GDP (more than 0.8 percent) in foreign aid. So, per person, the wealthier countries really are the most generous. While the U.S. donates the most aid overall - $16.3 billion - that is only about 0.15 percent of the U.S. GDP. Saudi Arabia gives the highest percentage of foreign aid - about 1 percent of its GDP.

According to the "Pocket World in Figures," those who watch TV tend to read more - Thailand, Egypt and the Philippines are in the top five of both lists. The average Thai watches 22.4 hours of television per week and spends 11.7 hours on the Internet, but still finds 9.4 hours to read. So, to encourage reading (newspapers especially) in American schools, here's an innovative solution: Install more televisions in classrooms.

France, Spain and the U.S. are at the top of tourism. France received 75,048,000 tourists in 2005, Spain welcomed 51,000,000, while the U.S. was third with 41,212,000 tourists. Italy was not far behind, with 39,604,000.

Uganda has a recent history of being a pariah. But consider this: Half of Uganda's population (about 50.5 percent) is younger than 15.

It's interesting to note that, according to "Pocket World in Figures," North Korea spends 25 percent of its GDP on defense.

Americans lead the world in many ways, but here is a dubious honor: The U.S. ranks No. 1 in red ink. There is little chance that anyone will ever be able to compete with our impressive budget deficit of 2005. It was $530.7 billion, according to "Pocket World in Figures."

Japan and Germany, on the other hand, have the highest budget surpluses - the Japanese have about $136.2 billion in their bank account.

The U.S. did make the most patents list, ahead of other innovators, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

New Zealand has more endangered mammals and birds than any other nation.

Canada tops the list of pot-smoking teens, with 43.3 percent of 15-year-old guys and 37.5 percent of Canada's 15-year-old girls having used cannabis within the past year.

Basic statistics have the potential to transform boring numbers into useful information. For example, is it coincidence that the 10 countries with the most reported crimes did not make the top 10 list of countries with the most police personnel?

Well, even if we do not find secret "Da Vinci Code"-style messages in this book of rankings, some numbers are funny. Count on it.

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