The Real Impact of Global Weight Gain

The Real Impact Of Global Weight Gain

Tue 19 Jun 2012

Story by The Food Revolution Team

The Weight Of Nations: An Estimation Of Adult Human Biomass

Increasing population fatness could have the same implications for world food energy demands as an extra half a billion people living on the earth.

New research, published by BMC Public Health has reported that the global weight gain could in fact be more damaging than rising population numbers as increasing levels of fatness around the world will impact global resources requirements, including food demand and our overall ecological footprint.

Global Adult Biomass

Using information collected by the World Health Organization in 2005, researchers calculated the global adult human biomass (the combined weight of adults worldwide) to be approximately 287 million tonnes. Of these 287 tonnes, 15 million were due to overweight and 3.5 million due to obesity.

The study also reports that North America has the highest average body mass of any continent (80.7kg), with more than 70% of the North American population being overweight and the corresponding biomass due to obesity being 1.2 million tonnes. Although North America has 6% of the world’s population, it accounts for 34% of world biomass due to obesity. In comparison, Asia has the lowest average body mass of any continent (57.7kg), and accounts for 61% of the world’s population yet only 13% of biomass due to obesity.

Shifting BMI Distribution

According to the study, if all countries around the world had the Body Mass Index (BMI) distribution of North America (28.7) there would be…

• An increase in human biomass of 58 million tonnes which is the same as an extra 935 million people of average body mass
• Increased energy requirements of 261 kcal per day per adult or in other words an increase in energy requirements equivalent to that of 473 million adults.

In comparison, if all countries around the world had the same age-sex BMI distribution as Japan (22.9)…

• Total biomass would fall by 14.6 million tonnes, equivalent to the mass of 235 million people of world average body mass
• Energy requirements would decrease by an average of 59 kcal per day per adult living on the planet – an equivalent to the energy requirement of 107 million adults.

UN world population projections suggest that by 2050 there could be an additional 2.3 billion people on the planet and as outlined in this research, the ecological implications of rising numbers will be intensified by increases in average body mass.

According to the study, global trends of increasing body mass will have important resource implications and unless change is made in these trends, increasing BMI could have the same implications for world energy requirements as would an extra half a billion people being on the planet. Therefore tackling the weight of the population may be critical to world food security and ecological sustainability.

Join The Conversation

What do you think about these recent findings? And how do you think change can be made? Join the conversation and let us know what you think by posting on our facebook Food Revolution Community page and joining the #foodrevolution conversation with @foodrev on twitter.

How much is the world over eating? Check out this chart to see the number of extra adults that could be fed by food eaten by overweight and obese people across the world.
See the full study here.

The Food Revolution Team


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