Social Issues June 18, 2012
Maybe We Should Skip Dessert? The World's Population Is 17 Million Tons Overweight

The world's population is overweight, a fact that's threatening our future food security, according to a new study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Researchers found that increasing levels of individual weight could have the same impact on global resources as adding an extra billion people to the world's population.

The study - published in the journal BMC Public Health to coincide with the Rio+20 United Nations conference on sustainable development - found that despite making up only six percent of the world's population, North America accounts for more than a third of the world's weight due to obesity. The average global body weight in 2005 (when the data from the World Health Organization was gathered) was 137 pounds. In North America, the average was 178 pounds.

The United States ranks number one on the list of most overweight countries (Canada comes in 14th). The top ten also includes Kuwait, Croatia, Qatar and Egypt. Professor Ian Roberts, one of the study's authors, believes the impact of cars is largely responsible: "One of the most important determinants of average body mass index is motor vehicle gas consumption per capita. So, it is no surprise to see many of the Arab countries in the list - people eat but they move very little because they drive everywhere".

At the other end of the spectrum is the list of countries with the lowest number of overweight or obese citizens. Whereas the United States has an estimated eight million obese people, Eritrea, the least-overeating country on the list, has only 12 obese citizens. The researchers caution against assuming that "being skinny is just a factor of poverty". They point to Japan, where the average Body Mass Index (BMI) was 22 in 2005, compared to the U.S. average of 28.5.

When discussing sustainability and humanity, many thinkers focus on population, but the researchers want attendees at Rio+20 to take into account the impact of obesity. Professor Roberts says "we've also got to think of this fatness thing; it's part of the same issue of exceeding our planetary limits".

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