June 19, 2012
Fatness Could Be Next Global Threat
As people around the globe continue to get fat, researchers now say that gaining weight may be a bigger threat to global food resources than having an extra billion people.
Researchers found that if the entire human population stepped on one massive scale, the weight would read 632 billion pounds.
During the study, the team obtained information about the average body mass index of people in each country, and calculated the percentage of the population that is overweight and obese.
They reported in the journal BMC Public Health that the overweight people in the world carry the equivalent of 242 million normal-weight people.
People living in North America are the biggest offenders, according to the research. Those living in that part of the world consist of 34 percent of all human biomass, but only contain 6 percent of the world's population.
The average body mass in the world was 136 pounds, while the average weight in North America was 178 pounds, the team found.
The researchers, which used 2005 estimates of the world's population in their analysis, reported that Asia tips the scale the least, as it contains 61 percent of the world's population, but only 13 percent of the world's biomass due to obesity.
If every country in the world had the same body mass index as the U.S., the total human biomass would increase by the weight of 935 million people, according to the study.
As an illustration of what to do, the researchers point to Japan as being a prime example.
"The Japanese example is quite strong. Average BMI (Body Mass Index) in USA in 2005 was 28.7. In Japan, it was 22. You can be lean without being really poor, and Japan seems to have pulled that off," study researcher Ian Roberts, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in a statement to Matt McGrath of BBC News.
The team hopes the research helps spark some new ideas when it comes to thinking about consumption, weight and population growth.
"We often point the finger at poor women in Africa having too many babies,” said Roberts. "But we've also got to think of this fatness thing; it's part of the same issue of exceeding our planetary limits."
The energy requirements to feed the human population not only depends on the numbers, but also the average mass. As the world's population continues to expand, so does the waistline. By 2050, researchers estimate there could be 8.9 billion people on the planet.
The authors wrote that increasing biomass will have important implications for global resource requirements, such as food demand and the overall ecological footprint.
"Everyone accepts that population growth threatens global environmental sustainability – our study shows that population fatness is also a major threat," Roberts said in a statement. "Unless we tackle both population and fatness, our chances are slim."