Global weight gain more damaging than population growth
Increasing levels of fatness around the world could have the same impact on global resources as adding an extra billion people to the planet, say researchers.
The team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the total weight of people on the planet and found that North America had the highest average.
Although only 6 percent of the global population live there, it is responsible for more than a third of the obesity.
In their report, published in the journal BMC Public Health, the researchers calculated the weight of the global population at 287 million tonnes.
They estimated 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).
While Asia accounts for 61percent of the global population, it only accounts for 13 percent of the weight of the world due to obesity.
"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," said Prof Ian Roberts, one of the authors of the paper.
The researchers argued that just focussing on obesity 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.
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