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 276.

    Hello Andrew.
    Not every topic - just the pointless lightweight affairs that get in the way of discussing more pressing issues like the harassment of Lord Levenson by that schoolboy bully - the one who won't show his e mails - not as if they're as sensitive as a risk register is it?

    Now don't forget - who sold the gold?

    Ranting, how so?

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    266. Billythefirst
    You might be onto something here, Theresa May could certainly do with shedding a bit - often wondered if she's fit.
    She used to be, (remember the 'kitten' shoes) But since she came back in to office, oh dear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    @Avalon (283) who argues that there must be an environmental component to obesity. It is acknowledged that some conditions, like homosexuality ,are 100% genetic and cannot be "cured".

    Why shouldn't obesity be an irreversible genetic condition like homosexuality? All this fat phobia, that the BBC loves to indulge in might be as ignorant and prejudiced as homophobia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    A while back I did a pleasure/essential eating experiment as I had gained a few pounds. I asked myself 'am I eating for pleasure or is this essential eating?' every time I put something to my gob. I denied all pleasure eating for the time.


    Felt better
    Lost weight
    Answered 'pleasure' a lot.

    Couldn't keep it up though, where's my doughnut gone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    "Another bad science paper. As resources run short so the "fat" people would have less to eat.".

    Unfortunately this argument only works if everyone has the same access to the resources. Unfortunately, it will be a case of the wealthy fat retaining the same size slice of a shrinking pie at the expense of the poor. Americans will not get thinner; rather, more Africans will starve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    192.PatBenatar "I like to count how many posts it takes before someone suggests something truly obnoxious... Play at home, it's fun!"

    Even better, try 'Fat Hate Bingo', similar to 'Workplace / Meeting Bingo' but containing gems such as 'We're too accepting of fat people' and 'You can't be fat and happy'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    The world runs short of natural resources.
    100's die every day in Syria.
    Wars are being fought all over the planet.
    Millions die of treatable diseases every year.
    An this scientist calculates the weight of every one and has ago at those eating too many hamburgers... Good grief what a waste of time an effort, create nuclear fusion or something useful..! Make a difference..!

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.


    "overpopulation" has long been a thinly veiled form of racism, accompanied by pictures of poor in Africa and Asia - the poor who consume the least"

    So if they get better off they will consume more and add to the problem then?

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    The population figures seem to be for the population aged over 15. Sloppy journalism?

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    overpopulation has been the excuse pedalled by the west for 50 years.

    Consumption is the problem.
    The world's environment is largely being destroyed to service the consumer habits of the affluent, urbanised (mostly western hemisphere) population.

    "overpopulation" has long been a thinly veiled form of racism, accompanied by pictures of poor in Africa and Asia - the poor who consume the least

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    245. unprophete

    The reason for a lot of people's weight is their unwillingness to blame themselves
    You might be onto something here, Theresa May could certainly do with shedding a bit - often wondered if she's fit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Has anyone ever found a link between political persuasion and weight?! What is all this about "left wing fatties" in earlier posts?!
    I might be left of centre, but at 5'11" and 10st7lbs, I'm definitely not a fatty!

    And just two further points - Nicholas Soames and Eric Pickles.

  • Comment number 264.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    Even more excuses from the left wing fatties
    As we all know only Socialists are fat all Tories are slim like for example Eric Pickles!

    Probably the most ridiculous posting of the day so far.

    By the way 232 I think you will find the difference in weight between a Pekingnese and an Irish Wolf Hound exceed even that between a Pickles and a Miliband

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger also ate too much, for sure. And specially protein, which when digested releases urea, which in its turn is toxic for the environment. So, independently of being "healthy", body-duilders also eat too much and don't help the environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Self righteous skinnies...JOG ON!

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    @238.Chazz Trinder, yes and no, there will be a number of people that are genetically predisposed to being obese, just as people at the other end of the scale (anorexics) are genetically predisposed to the condition, but not every one in the group is affected as there is an Environmental variable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Interesting that this article, which notes that Japanese people have a healthy average BMI, combined with a high standard of living, is on the same day as an article that says that Tescos have announced that they are paying to get out of the Japanese market, after years of losses there.

    More than coincidence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    238.Chazz Trinder: Absolutely. And there's plenty more evidence like that out there, much of it from sources far more respected than 'The London School of Tropical Medicine'. Unfortunately, because it doesn't confirm widely-held prejudices about gluttony and immorality, folk don't want to hear it, media won't report it and Govt won't accept it when formulating knee-jerk policies such as 'fat tax'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    I've always hated the good food is expensive argument.We go to a couple of local grocery stores at the weekend (middle of Manchester, not some village farmers market) We buy local fresh fruit and veg and it costs between £15-20 a week. If I go to Asda or Tesco on the way home for a quick meal; I end up spending the same

    Food is a necessary expense. So why buy rubbish, expensive, processed foods?


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