Global weight gain more damaging than rising numbers

World made of hot dogs and sweets Extra weight could be the equivalent of adding an extra billion people to the planet.

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Researchers say if increasing levels of fatness are replicated globally it could mean the equivalent of an extra billion people on the planet.

The team estimated the total weight of people on the planet and found that North America had the highest average.

Although only 6% of the global population live there, it is responsible for more than a third of the obesity.

The research is published in the journal BMC Public Health.

In their report, the researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine calculate the weight of the global population at 287 million tonnes. They estimate that 15 million tonnes of this mass is due to people being overweight, and 3.5 million tonnes due to obesity.

Using World Health Organization data from 2005, the scientists worked out that the average global body weight was 62kg (137lb). But there were huge regional differences. In North America, the average was 80.7kg (178lb), while in Asia it was 57.7kg (127lb) .

Start Quote

One of the problems with definitions of obesity - it fosters a them and us ideal - when actually we're all getting fatter”

End Quote Prof Ian Roberts London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

While Asia accounts for 61% of the global population, it only accounts for 13% of the weight of the world due to obesity.

One of the authors of the paper, Prof Ian Roberts, explained the thinking behind the calculation.

"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."

Weight of the world

The researchers say that just focusing on obesity in individuals or in groups is divisive and unhelpful.

"One of the problems with definitions of obesity is that it fosters a 'them and us' ideal. Actually, we're all getting fatter." Prof Roberts told BBC News.

The scientists also compiled tables of the heaviest and lightest countries according to their estimates.

The US, with its well documented problems with weight, is top of the list. If the rest of the world were to emulate the Americans, Prof Roberts says, it would have dramatic implications for the planet.

Thin Asian lady Japanese people have a low average BMI but high standards of living.

"If every country in the world had the same level of fatness that we see in the USA, in weight terms that would be like an extra billion people of world average body mass," he explained.

While countries like Eritrea, Vietnam and Ethiopia are at the other end of the scale from the US, the researchers argue it is not sufficient to say that being skinny is just a factor of poverty. The researchers point to a country like Japan which, according to Professor Roberts, could be a model for others.

"The Japanese example is quite strong. Average BMI (Body Mass Index) in USA in 2005 was 28.7. In Japan, it was 22. You can be lean without being really poor, and Japan seems to have pulled that off."

Car culture

But other countries in the top 10 most weighty are more of a surprise, and include Kuwait, Croatia, Qatar and Egypt.

Prof Roberts says that the high number of Arab countries is due to the impact of the automobile.

"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 research team hopes its work will prompt new thinking about how the world weighs up issues of consumption, weight and population growth.

"We often point the finger at poor women in Africa having too many babies," says Prof Roberts. "But we've also got to think of this fatness thing; it's part of the same issue of exceeding our planetary limits."

How much is the world over-eating?

No. of extra adults that could be fed with food eaten by:
Country Pop. Overweight Obese





Top 10 over-eaters

United States




Russian Federation




















United Kingdom
















Bottom 10 over-eaters





Sri Lanka








The Gambia




Central African Republic








East Timor








Sao Tome and Principe








Population source: WHO data 2005


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  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    In this country, most employment is very sedentary. For example, if you work full time in a call centre, you are absolutely not encouraged to wander about; this lack of exercise dampens the mood and make overeating rife in these sort of industries.
    I appreciate that there is no simple way out of this but at least face the facts of our way of life; it is run by large corporations

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    I have been slapping my gut recently and am getting a nice ripple affect which is kind of mesmeric. I really need to cut down on my garbage intake which logically will mean less resources required to feed me.

    Common sense really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I've put a little bit of weight on recently, too many takeaways and a bit too much beer I suspect. The other week I mentioned to the rather large barmaid in my local (I know, I know) my desire to lose a bit of weight or at least call a halt to my weight gain. ''your not fat,'' she said, ''you don't need to worry

    Self denial and falsely reassuringly others, acceptance obeing overweight -problem

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    For the younger generation 25 - 35 the way of life has changed from when I was their age from 1965-75 I was a tour guide sitting most of the day on a coach and not getting a lot of excercise. My weight rose to 14.25stones and being only 5ft8in tall was overweight but not exactly fat. Since my retirement 4 years ago I have toned down to 11.50stones and feel great.Willpower is all they all need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Despite years of discussing labeling , hidden sugar , hidden additives , hidden salt etc we are a nation getting fatter . Every school should in some form cover health and nutrition and a few shock tactics should be used , same with alcohol and cigarettes . I would also like to see a health tax on foods overly fatty , sugarry , salty etc. Part of the reason these foods are popular is price .

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    The simple answer is people do not do enough exercise for the calories they take in. Most people who work get out of bed, drive to work, sit at a desk and snack, drive home, sit in front of the TV and snack and go to bed and even those who do manual work have machines to do the hard bit for them. Those that don’t work probably do even less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    In the past, humans we did not know where the next meal was coming from. Now we do. About every 2 hours. Shop wisely, prepare food well, eat smaller portions, and don't snack between meals. Make a decision to make that a habit (by definition, permanent).

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    106.3Mitch "dread to think what life would be like if we weren't!"
    Agreed. The 40-yr period during which hostility toward fat people has exploded has coincided with the alleged 'obesity epidemic'. Hate and vilification creates depression, self-loathing & discrimination: how is that productive? Most of the vocal advocates of the 'war on obesity' seem to be in it to make themselves feel superior.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    @118. Excellent post! Some don't have one burger and one portion of chips with salad tho do they? The triple x obese would consume 3 times this amount and probably a load of bread and a bucket barrel full of biscuits for afters! Food in some countries is far too cheap too available and what the hell we are having it any way attitude!

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    Those who are not fat now may never be affected and will feel smug about their lifestyle. However, your children and their children will be unable to escape it if additives are not controlled - it will happen to fruit and vegetables as demand outstrips supply and growers seek higher profits from less produce. Stop being so smug and wake up to the reality some foods have been made highly addictive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Surely,a lot of it has to do with Genes?For example,i can eat anything yet i never put on weight and others just pile it on.Tapeworms,now that would cut down Obesity,Kind off like maggots in a infected wound.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    So much for the myth of there being too many people in the world, there's just too many selfish people gobbling up all the resources

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Eat & drink whatever you want.
    But in moderation. The trouble is as soon as a survey comes out saying this or that is good for you some people decide to go overboard and have it to excess.
    A little of what you fancy does you good.
    The other thing to bear in mind is always look to see who is funding the survey extolling the virtues of whatever it is. It can tell you an awful lot about who's right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I think the obesity issue is another media invention. The junk food, super sized portions, automobiles and etc have existed for generations and so did fat people. The obesity figures of today are nothing compared to those of victorian times when people used to have up to 10 meals a day. All this is just a campaign to promote diet and organic products. PS, I am not obese and my BMI is perfect.

  • Comment number 122.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.


  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    This is a really flawed argument. Yes, the world has finite resources, but the abilty to sustain the human population with food is only one of them. A billion extra people, whilst if they were thin, would consume the same amount food, what about the extra cars, clothing, houses, travel, electronic devices etc etc etc they would want?

    To look at this in isolation is really missing the point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Ahh, throwing in insults, how can you be taken seriously?? "

    You mean hurling around terms like "lefty/libs" as pejoratives? Neat way of avoiding answering the question, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Everything in moderation plus a little bit of regular exercise - that's all. It's not about extremes, you don't have to go without food or cut out all fat and you don't have to run a marathon.

    Burger, chips and salad sometimes = great. Double bacon cheeseburger, mountain of chips and a bucket of coke = not great.

    Rocket science it ain't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    No.7@20 "The cost of all that extra food must exceed the cost of a reasonable quantity of healthy food. This logical & mathematical problem doesn't go away.."
    Except that many food products available as 'reduced fat/sugar' and WITHOUT additives are more expensive than those with! A certain crisp manufacturer recently ceased their 'Lite' range, which had never been included in special offers!


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