Monday, April 16, 2012

Waistlines Worldwide Carry Enough Food for 300 Million People

"You can be lean without being really poor, and Japan seems to have pulled that off". Photo courtesy: this particular greg/CC BY 2.0

A few years back Mat quoted British journalist Fred Pearce, who questions the prevailing wisdom about overpopulation:
Rising consumption today is a far bigger threat to the environment than a rising head count. And most of that extra consumption is still happening in rich countries that have long since given up growing their population.
Mat concluded:
A reasonably equitable distribution of the planet's resources, among humans and non-humans, dictates that those of us at the top of the heap start consuming less, way less--Pearce's point in urging that long, hard look in the mirror.
Now new data show that this is literally true, particularly when it comes to food. When they look in the mirror it is not going to be a pretty sight. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used population and body mass index information to calculate the total body mass of the population. They then calculated how much of that was healthy body mass, how much was due to overweight and how much to obesity. It turns out that people in a lot of the wealthier countries in the world are carrying around a lot of extra pounds which have to be fed. One of the authors explained the meaning of this to the BBC:
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.
There also appears to be a correlation between countries where people drive a lot and body mass. For example, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are in the top ten. Professor Roberts speculates:
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.
The amount of excess body mass being carried around is the equivalent of three hundred million people.

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