Rising weight of human population threatens global food security

by TMP Editor on June 18, 2012

Researchers in Britain have analyzed the average weight of the world’s population. They’ve concluded that increasing fatness could be as big a threat to global food security as overpopulation. According to their analysis, the amount of food sustaining the extra body mass of the world’s overweight and obese population could feed an additional 1 billion people.

Humanity steps on the scale

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have determined that the entire human population weighs about 316 million tons, or 632 billion pounds. According to the United Nations, the world’s population will increase by another 2.3 billion people by 2050. The challenge to feed them all will be made even more difficult as the average body mass of humanity keeps rising.

Too many pounds of flesh

From insects to mammals, the energy needs of any species on the planet are determined by its total mass. The more mass the human population gains, the higher its energy needs will be.

“When people think about environmental sustainability, they immediately focus on population,” said Ian Roberts, one of the authors of the study. “Actually, when it comes down to it, it’s not how many mouths there are to feed, it’s how much flesh there is on the planet.”

U.S. tops in BMI

Roberts and his colleagues used 2005 estimates of the world’s future population from the UN and the World Health Organization. Data on the average body mass index of individual countries was used to calculate the percentage of the population that is overweight and obese. Predictably, the U.S. was at the top of the list with an average BMI of 28.7. The normal healthy range of BMI in adults is considered to be between 18.5 and 23.9.

The researchers found that the average global body mass is 136 pounds. North America had the highest average body mass of all the continents at 178 pounds. Because of its growing numbers of overweight and obese people, North America accounts for 34 percent of the world’s human biomass, even thought it has only 6 percent of the world’s population. Asia, on the other hand, has only 13 percent of the world’s human biomass with 61 percent of the world’s population.

Overeating vs. chronic hunger

The world’s overweight people eat to sustain16 million tons of extra weight—the equivalent of an extra 242 million normal-weight people. Obese people demand the food to sustain 3.8 million extra tons of weight—the equivalent of an extra 56 million normal-weight people.

As developing countries get richer, their people want to eat like Americans. Global demand for meat is rising and fast food outlets are sprouting up in the most unlikely places.

According to Roberts, if the rest of the world were as fat as the U.S., the increase in total human biomass would equate to an extra 1 billion people of normal weight. It’s interesting to note that nearly a billion people in the world today are affected by chronic hunger.

Now there’s some food for thought.

Source: Fox News, BBC News, Freedom from Hunger

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