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The weight of the world

A new paper investigates the obesity epidemic from a unique angle – exactly how much fat can the planet support?

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Humanity is 15 million tonnes overweight, according to research published in BioMed Central.

The paper, “The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass”, investigated the total mass of humanity in order to estimate its implications for global food energy demands.

The investigators found that, in total, humanity weighs about 287 million tonnes, of which 15 million tonnes – almost two and a half times the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza – was due to overweight and obesity.

Obesity, say the investigators, impacts the world’s effort to feed itself. Overweight and obese people have more metabolically active tissue than those in a normal weight range, and so need to consume more energy, in the form of food, to support themselves.

An average adult living in the USA consumes, on average, an extra 243 Kcal every day to sustain their overweight biomass.

Eritrea, in comparison, only consumes an extra 2 Kcal per adult per day to maintain overweight biomass.

If the entire world had the same distribution of BMI as the USA, human biomass would increase by 58 million tonnes – the equivalent mass of an extra 935 million people of average body mass. The extra energy requirement would be the equivalent, say the researchers, of needing to support another 406 million adults.

This map, prepared from data in the study, lists the 10 countries consuming the most energy to maintain overweight biomass (red) and the 10 countries consuming the least energy to maintain overweight biomass (blue).

All data is taken from “The Weight of Nations”, by S Walpole, D Prieto-Merino, P Edwards, J Cleland, G Stevens, and I Roberts.