ObesityJust over a week ago I wrote about how Super Size Food is creating Super Sized People and indeed we now have a new category of Super Obese.

Some examples of super sizing our food include:

  • 1,233% increase of size of a chocolate bar since early 1900s
  • 223% increase of size of a burger since the 1950s
  • 500% increase of size of a fizzy drink (soda) since the 1950s

With food increasing in size, it should be no surprise that the average adult is nearly 2 stone heavier today than they were in the 1950s and now it is predicted that Britain’s obesity epidemic will cost the NHS and the economy £60bn annually by 2050.

The issues of obesity go way beyond costs of treating the dis-ease.

Increasing World Population

In recent years there have been many articles published about the problems associated with an increasing human population. Overpopulation has substantially adversely impacted the environment of Earth. Fresh water supplies, required to sustain life, are running low worldwide. Some scientists argue that there is enough food to support the world population and many countries already have to rely heavily on imports to feed their populations.

This has resulted in significant changes in the world’s landscape. The World Resources Institute states that “Agricultural conversion to croplands and managed pastures has affected some 3.3 billion [hectares] – roughly 26 percent of the [Earth's] land area. All totaled, agriculture has displaced one-third of temperate and tropical forests and one-quarter of natural grasslands.”

The weight of nations

Not only should we be concerned about the increase in the number of people living on Earth and our fragile planets ability to sustain this life, we also need to consider the size of these people and the impact of what we are eating.

In 2005, the total body weight of the global human population was approximately 287 million tonnes, of which 15 million tonnes were due to overweight (BMI > 25), a mass equivalent to that of 242 million people of average body mass (5% of global human body weight). Additional body weight due to obesity was 3.5 million tonnes, the mass equivalent of 56 million people of average body mass.

North America has 6% of the world population but 34% of the global human body weight, due to the scale of the nation’s obesity.

What if all countries had the BMI distribution of the US?

The increase in human body weight would be approximately 58 million tonnes, the equivalent of an extra 935 million people of average body mass, and would have the energy requirements equivalent to that of 473 million adults!

Is the US obesity problem going global?

Put simply, I believe the answer is yes.

America’s obesity problem is almost certainly linked to the increased consumption of ‘fast food’. A publication from the University of Minnesota states that “the culprit [that is supersizing the US population] is a potent mix of less exercise, changes in our work life, more meals eaten outside the home, bigger portions, more fats and sugars in prepared foods, an abundance of cheap corn syrup, and the tendency to consider moderation downright unAmerican.”

The impact of fast food can be clearly seem in the documentary ‘Super Size Me‘ when Morgan Spurlock gained 24.5 pounds (nearly 2 stone!) after just 30 days on a fast food diet.

It is no longer considered to be news that Americans are getting fatter and fatter, but the same is happening in many countries around the world. It is even happening in Mediterranean countries, especially among young people who are abandoning their famous diet

Pioppi, a little seaside Italian town south of Naples, is home of the Mediterranean Diet. In fact, there’s a museum here dedicated to Ancel Keys, a Minnesota physiologist who traveled to Europe during the 1940s and 1950s to study the diet of people living near the Mediterranean Sea.

Keys, who liked to eat Mediterranean-style meals, lived to be 101 years old. The problem is, in Italy generally, even here in Pioppi, the diet is being ignored.

“The Mediterranean diet is absolutely something that we are trying to pursue every day,” said Dr. Angelo Pietrobelli, associate professor of pediatrics and nutrition at the University of Verona. “Unfortunately, in particular among adolescents, they try to avoid Mediterranean diet because they try to ‘imitate’ the U.S. diet.”

I would like to give you some examples of how the US diet is spreading around the globe:

  • McDonalds has now opened ‘restaurants’ in 123 different countries and has more than 33,000 outlets worldwide.
  • Starbucks now has more than 5,500 coffeehouses in over 50 countries.
  • Coca-Cola is sold in over 200 countries.
  • Subway is one of the fastest growing franchises in the world with 37,000 restaurants in 100 countries and territories as of June 27, 2012.

Obesity in the developing world

According to the USDA “Income growth has increased food imports by developing countries, particularly since higher incomes strengthen the demand not only for traditional food but also for a more diversified diet. As a greater proportion of the world’s population seeks to expand the quality and quantity of foods consumed, U.S. agricultural exports-such as feed and fodder and high–value foods–will continue to increase.”

The USDA’s long-term projection is that developing countries will be the main source of projected growth in global food demand and trade. Food consumption in developing countries is considerably more responsive to income growth than in developed countries. Nearly 40 cents of an additional dollar of income will go to food in developing countries, compared with 10 cents in developed countries.

Obesity in the developing world can be seen as a result of a series of changes in diet, physical activity, health and nutrition, collectively known as the ‘nutrition transition.’ As poor countries become more prosperous, they acquire some of the benefits along with some of the problems of industrialised nations, including obesity. A key element of the nutrition transition is the increasing importation of foods from the industrialized world. As a result, traditional diets featuring grains and vegetables are giving way to meals high in animal products, fat and sugar.

Over fed and under nourished

For as long as the world has known it, malnutrition has been associated with hunger, conjuring up images of gaunt and prematurely aged children and adults. Malnutrition is still very much with us, and it is taking on a new form as well.

To be sure, there are still far too many hungry and underfed people – in 2004 the number was 1.1 billion, but over one billion people are now overweight and obese.

An increasing number of overweight and obese people are not Westerners, but are Asians, Pacific islanders, and Latin Americans, in particular urban women, living in developing countries. Usually poor, they are succumbing in alarming numbers to the misleadingly named “diseases of affluence”–obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes–that arise from changing diets, lifestyles, and economies.

Chronic non-communicable diseases now cause close to 60 percent of all deaths worldwide andnearly 80 percent of these deaths occur in developing countries.

Overweightness and obesity, the most glaring outward sign of the changing face of malnutrition in developing countries, increase the chances of a person falling prey to the other non-communicable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, obesity-related ailments afflict more than 115 million people in the developing world, up from essentially none two generations ago. By 2030, these diseases as a group are projected to be the No. 1 killer of poor people around the world.

“We really are seeing the spread of a different form of malnutrition in the developing world and the globalization of chronic diseases due to the adoption of energy-dense high-calorie diets, high in fat and sugars, and Western-style work and social infrastructures,” says Neville Rigby, director of policy and public affairs at the International Obesity Taskforce, a London-based nongovernmental organisation (NGO) that researches weight-related health issues.

Can the Earth cope?

By 2050, the world will host nine billion people—and that’s if population growth slows in much of the developing world!

Today, more than one billion people are chronically malnourished or starving. Simply to maintain that sad state of affairs would require the clearing (read: deforestation) of 900 million additional hectares of land, according to Pedro Sanchez, director of the Tropical Agriculture and Rural Environment Program at The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

We don’t have enough land

The bad news beyond the impacts on people, plants and animals of that kind of deforestation: There isn’t that much land available. At most, we might be able to add 100 million hectares to the 4.3 billion already under cultivation worldwide.

“Agriculture is the main driver of most ecological problems on the planet,” said economist Jeffrey Sachs, Scientific American columnist and Earth Institute director. “We are literally eating away the other species on the planet.”

It’s not just land that is the problem!

Here are a few facts and figures from John Robbins’ book ‘The Food Revolution’

Water Required to produce one pound of each food in California, US:

  • 1 pound of lettuce - 23 gallons
  • 1 pound of tomatoes – 23 gallons
  • 1 pound of potatoes – 24 gallons
  • 1 pound of wheat – 25 gallons
  • 1 pound of chicken – 815 gallons
  • 1 pound of pork – 1,630 gallons
  • 1 pound of beef – 5,214 gallons

Calories of fossil fuel expended to produce 1 calorie of protein:

  • Soybeans - 2 calories
  • Corn or wheat - 3 calories
  • Beef - 78 calories

What would a hamburger produced by clearing forest in India would cost if the real costs were included in the price rather than subsidised? The answer is approximately $200 US.

What can we do?

Put simply, if we care about our health, the health of our planet and what we leave behind for future generations then we need to change what we put into our mouths. Not only does our diet play a huge role in our health ad the quality of life we each are able to enjoy it also directly impacts the future of our fragile planet.

Year Without Beer

I am spending all 366 days of this leap year alcohol free in an attempt to raise money for charity (which I guess means I should stay away from Coke too now that has also been shown to include alcohol)

If you want to show some love them please donate to my year without beer and give your support to one of these fantastic causes:

  • To donate to Cancer Research UK please click here to visit my just giving page or donate by text – send AYWB66 and the amount to 70070. For example, texting “AYWB66 £5″ will donate £5.
  • To donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust please click here to visit my just giving page or donate by text – send AYWB55 and the amount to 70070. For example, texting “AYWB55 £5″ will donate £5.
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