The Weight of the World’s Population

The well-known American spiritual “He’s Got the World in His Hands” (first published in 1927), sung by Laurie London and the Geoff Love Orchestra, was the most played song in 1958. The song, however, didn’t really consider the weight of the entire human population that is impacted by such a high rate of obesity. Researchers from the London School Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who didn’t have any other pressing medical mysteries to solve, wanted to find out just how much the world’s entire human adult population weighed using the body mass index (an index of weight-for-height) and the world population in 2005 (about 6.5 billion) as the basis for calculations. In a study, entitled The Weight of Nations: an Estimation of Adult Human Biomass (June 2012), Sarah Walpole and her colleagues determined that if all adults stepped on a scale, the weight would be 632 billion pounds (316 million tons) — the equivalent of 3,300 aircraft carriers. The world’s obese population carries a total of 16 million tons of extra weight — the equivalent of 242 million normal-weight individuals.

Ian Roberts, one of the researchers, stated: “Everyone accepts that population growth threatens global environmental sustainability — our study shows that population fatness is also a major threat.” The study noted that North America has 6% of the world’s population, but has 34% of  the world’s biomass that is directly due to obesity. In contrast, Asia has 13% of the world’s population, but only 13% of the world’s biomass attributed to obesity. The report concludes: “Our scenarios suggest that global trends of increasing body mass will have important resource implications and that unchecked, increasing body mass index could have the same implications for world energy requirements as an extra 473 million people. Tackling population fatness may be critical to world food security and ecological sustainability.”

Studies by he World Health Organization (WHO) confirm the world’s rapidly increasing waistline. Using data collected in 2008, WHO reports that worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. Specifically, 35% of the world’s adults were overweight and 11% were obese; as of 2011, 40 million children under the age of 5 were obese. Obesity poses a serious threat to the human species: it is one of the world’s leading killers. Consider that 65% of the global population lives in countries where death is linked to obesity rather than underweight.

Unless the world can shed a few million pounds, forgoing calorie-rich fast food and junk food (if there is some distinction between the two), it might be necessary to rewrite the lyrics to the famous spiritual and throw in a few extra set of hands to help hold that overweight world.

Read related posts: Dieting by the Numbers
Couch Potato

For further reading: www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2458-12-439.pdf
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/

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