Linda Wertheimer talks to Dr. Ian Roberts, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Roberts led the research on a new study on global obesity. It shows that weight, not just population size, should be taken into account when planning how to deal with increasing pressure on resources.
ROBERTS: ...basically people always start thinking, well, you know, we're damaging the Earth's ecosystems from our sort of polluting activities and so how many people can the Earth support? And then immediately they start thinking about the numbers of people on the planet, you know, how many mouths to feed? But the point of this paper is actually food doesn't feed mouths, it feeds flesh. So the really important question is not how many mouths there are, it's how much flesh there is. And it's important to do that because if you're only thinking about numbers of mouths, we immediately start thinking about poor women in Africa having too many babies but population fatness is a big problem too.
WERTHEIMER: Now, your tables show that North Americans are the heaviest - and while we make up 6 percent of the population of the Earth, our obesity rate is such that we make up a third of all the excess weight. Now is that just another way of saying that we're obese, which I think we already know from a whole lot of reports, but is there some other implication?
ROBERTS: When the media talk about obesity in the United States, they always talk about certain individuals that have this problem, obesity, but what they miss is actually the whole population is getting fatter - even the thin people are getting fatter. So we worked out that if every country in the world had the same body mass index distribution as the United States, in mass terms it would be like having an extra billion people in the world. So there's obviously an increase demand on food supplies, but also there is an increased demand on everything. You know, bigger people need more energy to move them. Airplanes take more energy to get off the ground. It takes more of the shares that, you know, of the Earth's resources to actually support all that extra weight...
What does ATRL think of this? What is the answer to this epidemic, or is there even one?
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