The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass

The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass

Background
The energy requirement of species at each trophic level in an ecological pyramid is a function of the number of organisms and their average mass. Regarding human populations, although considerable attention is given to estimating the number of people, much less is given to estimating average mass, despite evidence that average body mass is increasing. We estimate global human biomass, its distribution by region and the proportion of biomass due to overweight and obesity.

Methods
For each country we used data on body mass index (BMI) and height distribution to estimate average adult body mass. We calculated total biomass as the product of population size and average body mass. We estimated the percentage of the population that is overweight (BMI > 25) and obese (BMI > 30) and the biomass due to overweight and obesity.

Results
In 2005, global adult human biomass was approximately 287 million tonnes, of which 15 million tonnes were due to overweight (BMI > 25), a mass equivalent to that of 242 million people of average body mass (5% of global human biomass). Biomass due to obesity was 3.5 million tonnes, the mass equivalent of 56 million people of average body mass (1.2% of human biomass). North America has 6% of the world population but 34% of biomass due to obesity. Asia has 61% of the world population but 13% of biomass due to obesity. One tonne of human biomass corresponds to approximately 12 adults in North America and 17 adults in Asia. If all countries had the BMI distribution of the USA, the increase in human biomass of 58 million tonnes would be equivalent in mass to an extra 935 million people of average body mass, and have energy requirements equivalent to that of 473 million adults.

Conclusions
Increasing population fatness could have the same implications for world food energy demands as an extra half a billion people living on the earth.

image_pdf

Leave a Comment:

3 comments
Anonymous says October 24, 2013

6% of the world’s population but have 34% of the biomass? How can we weigh 6 times as much as everyone else?

We’re fat but we’re not that fat.

Reply
    Mangan says October 24, 2013

    I tripped over that one the first time through too. No, what is meant is that it has 34% of the biomass that derives from obesity.

    Reply
kudzu bob says October 26, 2013

Overpopulated and fat. Talk about the worst of both worlds.

Reply
Add Your Reply