We worry a lot about obesity. We see it in headlines and when we walk down the street. The majority of us are smacked by it, a little or a lot, when we step on the scale. We attribute it to sugary drinks and fast food.
Care2′s bloggers have reflected on the role supermarkets play, the startling projection that half of U.S. adults will be obese in 20 years, why BMI (body mass index) may not be the best measurement, and a host of other issues.
A new study gives us another reason for concern. It seems our extra pounds are imperiling the environment and putting global food security at risk.
We have already heard about the impact of obesity on our health care costs. Now a team of U.K. researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says we need to broaden our perspective.
Next: The Weight of Us All
The scientists used BMI data to calculate the total biomass and average body mass for the population of each country that published enough data to include in the study. Using a complicated algorithm, they worked out that in 2005 the combined weight of all the people on the planet was about 287 million tonnes, 15 of those tonnes due to overweight and another 3.5 to obesity. Their figures led them to conclude that the food energy impact of that excess poundage had about the same impact as a half billion more people sharing the planet.
When they divided the total tonnes by the world’s population, they found the average body mass of people around the globe to be 62 kg. Things started getting particularly interesting when they compared countries. North Americans topped the scale at at 80.7 kg, while Asians weighed in at 57.7 kg.
Almost three quarters of North Americans (73.9 percent) were overweight, compared with 24.2 percent of Asians and 55.6 percent of Europeans. That was 2005. In the seven years since the data were gathered, obesity and overweight have increased around the globe, which means 2012 figures would be even higher.
Next: Why the Numbers Matter
Professor Ian Roberts, one of the study’s authors, told BBC why these numbers matter:
When people think about environmental sustainability, they immediately focus on population. 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.
The heavier we are, the more energy it takes to feed us. It take more fuel to operate our vehicles. Everything we do or buy ends up requiring more resources. The implications are dizzying.
Pointing the finger at family size in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa turns out to be a boomerang. As the US population increases from 310 million in 2010 to a projected 403 million in 2050, the heftier population will “have important implications for world energy requirements.”
The authors of this study caution:
Tackling population fatness may be critical to world food security and ecological sustainability.
Blaming and shaming won’t work. This is a global issue. Each of us holds a piece of the solution puzzle.
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Photo 1: Thinkstock; Photo 2 from Kyle May via Flickr Creative Commons; Photo 3 from santian via Flickr Creative Commons