The weight of nations: An estimation of adult human biomass

June 17, 2012

The world population is over seven billion and all of these people need feeding. However, the energy requirement of a species depends not only on numbers but on its average mass. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Public Health has estimated the total mass of the human population, defined its distribution by region, and the proportion of this biomass due to the overweight and obesity.

Up to half of all food eaten is burned up in physical activity. Increasing mass means higher energy requirements, because it takes more energy to move a heavy body. Even at rest a bigger body burns more energy.

Using data from the United Nations and , researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated that the adult weights in at 287 million tonnes. 15 millions of which is due to the overweight and 3.5 million due to obesity.

While the average body mass globally was 62kg, North America, which has the highest body mass of any continent, with an average body mass of 80.7kg. North America has only 6% of the world's population but 34% of the world's biomass mass due to obesity. In contrast Asia has 61% of the world's population but only 13% of the world's biomass due to obesity.

If all countries had the same average BMI as the USA the total human biomass would increase by 58 million tonnes - this is the equivalent of an additional 935 million people of world average body mass.

Explaining the implications of this study Sarah Walpole said, "Our results emphasize the importance of looking at biomass rather than just when considering the of a species, especially humans."

This study was based on the 2005 WHO SURF report so it is an underestimate of the current situation. The world's population is continuing to increase in size – the UN predicts that by 2050 there could be 8.9 billion people on the planet.

Prof Ian Roberts, continued, "Everyone accepts that population growth threatens global environmental sustainability – our study shows that population fatness is also a major threat. Unless we tackle both population and fatness - our chances are slim."

More information: The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass Sarah C Walpole, David Prieto-Merino, Phil Edwards, John Cleland, Gretchen Stevens and Ian Roberts. BMC Public Health (in press)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study finds 275,000 calls to poison control centers for dietary supplement exposures from 2000 through 2012

July 24, 2017
U.S. Poison Control Centers receive a call every 24 minutes, on average, regarding dietary supplement exposures, according to a new study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Central Ohio Poison Center, ...

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.