'Fatness is a political issue,' professor says
June 18th, 2012
03:23 PM ET

'Fatness is a political issue,' professor says

The U.S. obesity crisis is no secret - people around the country are getting fatter and it's costing us billions.

But obesity isn't just an American issue. According to a study published in the journal BMC Public Health this week, it's also a global health issue... and not for the reason you may think.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used data from the United Nations and the World Health Organization to estimate the total mass of the human population. In 2005 we, as a global society, weighed approximately 316 million tons, which is about 17 million tons overweight.

Obesity caused 3.9 million tons of that total, the equivalent of 56 million average-sized people. Even more concerning: North America accounts for only 6% of the world's population but 34% of its obesity-related mass.

"One tonne of human biomass corresponds to approximately 12 adults in North America and 17 adults in Asia," according to the study. "If all countries had the BMI distribution of the USA, the increase in human biomass ... would be equivalent in mass to an extra 935 million people." (There's about 2,200 pounds in one tonne, and 2,000 pounds in a ton).

So North Americans are fatter than people living in Asia, you might be thinking. What's the big deal?

The problem, the researchers say, comes when you relate that number to the amount of food needed to keep those "extra 935 million people" alive. And while some people may be obese, "everyone is getting fatter," study author Ian Roberts wrote in an e-mail.

The energy requirements for the human species depends on the total number of people and our average mass. Heavier people need more energy, or food.

And if the heavier people also have more money, any lack of food resources would be felt more by the world's poor.

"We need to be clear that overconsumption in the wealthy world is a problem for personal and planetary health," Roberts wrote. "Fatness is a political issue that needs urgent attention. The fact that the average American is overweight - with one third of the population obese - is not a trivial problem and should be considered at the United Nations."

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. skb

    antibiotics lead to yeast infections that mess up our blood sugar.

    grains mess up our blood pressure (not sure if its grain or antifungals like copper sulfate? can't urinate. frequency in small amounts unless you stay away from it for about three days). exercise helps, but have to get rid of the grain.

    corn and corn derivatives cause inflammation on the allergy route. retain fluid. could be more of the same with fungicides or something along those lines, but possibly just allergens also. they put corn in everything. they wreck good food with bad food, and yes our body knows the difference.

    so, lots of people have to get out of the way in order for us to be healthy. and they all have more money than us so more likely they will continue to make us sick and try to sell us half baked drugs that won't work taking our limbs and such until we die.

    June 18, 2012 at 16:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • skb

      and yes we need salt to deal with the inflammation. the american heart association would have you load up on carbs (mostly corn and corn derivatives in this country), and take away the salt (not too much, but enough to clear the fluid...like salting your food. little salt licks. salt is a too much or not enough thing. try a little bit and see if it gets better or worse. not much, just a little bit and see if you can urinate in a few minutes). high corn and no salt would just get people all inflammed (probably on the allergy route) with no way to get rid of the fluid. probably lead more people to a heart attack than they ever prevented.

      June 18, 2012 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
    • skb

      could be fungicides...like copper sulfate...that would make it hard to urinate. but could be allergies from corn also. we don't know about gmo's yet. could just be corn. maybe its not really food. and we keep trying to eat it.

      June 18, 2012 at 16:10 | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      The food was changed in the USA, UK and Australia 30 years ago when dangerous food chemicals from the USA was allowed into Europe. The food today causes stubborn insulin If you have stubborn insulin you hold fat and have a hard time losing weight. You can eat very little and the weight still does not come off. Stubborn insulin will hold fat and diets won???t work. When researchers used a specialized diabetes diet on overweight people all lost weight even those who did not have diabetes.
      just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

      June 21, 2012 at 17:56 | Report abuse |
    • FitnessJunky

      Blog http://fitweblog.com/

      June 22, 2012 at 00:10 | Report abuse |
  2. Trent McBride

    You say "North America accounts for 6% of the world's population but 34% of it's total mass", which is either wrong, or highly misleading, depending on how you meant the context. I read that as saying that North Americans account for a third of all wight, whereas in actuality they account for a third of OBESE weight, which is not even close to the same thing. This is embarrassing for CNN to publish, and should be corrected or clarified.

    June 18, 2012 at 22:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jacque Wilson

      Thanks for reading! You're right - that sentence was misleading. We've corrected it to say that North America accounts for 34% of the world's obesity-related mass.

      June 19, 2012 at 07:56 | Report abuse |
  3. Darliene Howell

    Yes, fatness is a political issue, however, I disagree with the reasoning behind this article. It is a political issue just as any type of discrimination is a political issue; just as the erosion of peoples civil rights is a political issue; just as denying the rights of a specified group of people by public services is a political issue; just as finding adequate health care is a political issue.

    Which one of my civil rights should be taken from me because I am fat?

    June 18, 2012 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mexneff

      the right to stuff your face

      June 19, 2012 at 11:51 | Report abuse |
  4. MSR

    "Fatness is a political issue that needs urgent attention. The fact that the average American is overweight – with one third of the population obese – is not a trivial problem and should be considered at the United Nations."

    Why should the UN have anything to do with the United States' obesity problem????? This is absolutely rediculous. Also, "fatness" is not a political issue, it's a personal issue. If someone chooses to be fat and can afford the health care costs associated with it, then let them be fat. However, my tax dollars should not pay for someone's health care because they have made the choice to be fat and cannot afford it. This welfare society crap has to end.

    June 19, 2012 at 08:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. wileysunshine

    Take the crap out of our American "food" and put food back in. Bet you see a huge shift in the obesity rate. The allowance of the non-food stuff in our products is the political culprit.

    June 19, 2012 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MSR

      This is still a personal choice. People don't have to buy that crap. Go buy natural or whole foods and cook your own meals. If we all made this healthy choice the companies that make "fake" food would go out of business.

      June 20, 2012 at 00:22 | Report abuse |
  6. Kathi

    I'm so tired of all the world's ills being blamed on obesity. Headlines blaming this and that on obesity pop up all the time. It is a medical issue pure and simple.

    June 19, 2012 at 10:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Skunco

      See what we have here in the USA for intelligence. Theres no problem. It's just a medical issue.
      Well how about this then since were all being stupid here. I think I know whats causing the extra earthquakes. Billions of extra lard-mass-lbs stressing the tectonic plates!

      June 19, 2012 at 18:13 | Report abuse |
  7. jane

    What bothers me is the "5-gallon bucket" rule. Where as your body carries fecal waste according to weight and your bodies mass index. Be yourself at all times! If you are happy being fat, be fat but remember the rule! Being over-weight allows your body to carry a "5 gallon bucket" load of doo-do. Yucky yuck!

    June 19, 2012 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • FiveLIters

      Know what you mean...I did that Master Cleanse last year (where you aren't having any food,just that liquid mixture),and after a week,was STILL "going to the bathroom",which makes you realize just how much..."stuff" you're carrying around!

      June 20, 2012 at 09:31 | Report abuse |
    • GenYer

      You are not a doctor. I can tell that by this comment.

      June 21, 2012 at 15:02 | Report abuse |
  8. Alex

    Jacque states, "And if the heavier people also have more money, any lack of food resources would be felt more by the world's poor." This is not necessarily true as low-cost fast food chains provide "sustanance" for BOTH the rich and poor. The rich will get bigger from fancy foods, while the poor get bigger from burgers and fries.

    Obesity is definitely a personal choice. Yes, genetics plays a role, however, it just means you are more prone to being obese and not necessarily obese. I was once obese and realized it myself when I sat down and my pant button popped off!
    55lbs (27.5% of my weight at that time) later I'm healthy. IT WAS MY CHOICE to eat better and exercise. So all those obese people can . . . (wait for it) . . . EAT IT!

    June 21, 2012 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • redwolfmendoza

      I agree, what a poor conclusion to come up with. I wonder is Jacque isn't trolling us?

      June 21, 2012 at 12:15 | Report abuse |
  9. GenYer

    I find it sad that most people are ignorant of why obese people are obese. Obesity is not a disease or a pathogen. However, diseases and such can cause obesity and obesity can be a cause to some diseases. People think that all over weight and obese people must be over eating and not exercizing correctly. Well, this may be true, but most people in general fall under the category of incorrect diet and no exercize. In fact, I see many thin people who eat horrible foods and are not very active. This does not make them healthy. I have known both obese and thin people who are sick from diseases that most people think are caused only by obesity.

    This being pointed out, the media, health care professionals, the government and people in general need to stop making obesity the reason people are sick. PEOPLE are the reason people are sick, whether they are fat or not. PEOPLE choose what goes into their bodies whether it be cigarettes, alcohol or fast food.

    June 21, 2012 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Gao

    Great news, US have the most largest oil reserve! Go fat America, go fat!

    June 22, 2012 at 00:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. P

    No doubt obesity is a rising problem, which is being considered as an illness. People need to start being trained into a healthy life style. Look into the Natural Standard database, which was founded by healthcare providers and researchers to provide high-quality, evidence-based information about complementary and alternative medicine including dietary supplements and integrative therapies. Grades reflect the level of available scientific data for or against the use of each therapy for a specific medical condition.

    June 22, 2012 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Phil

    Larger populations need more calories to survive? That argument makes sense for muscle mass and metabolically active tissue, but if you take into consideration fat tissue, which is less metbaolically active (fat can't burn more claories than in provides or it wouldn't be an efficient energy reservior), then it loses footing. When you fill your car with gas, it takes more of that gas to pull the car because of the extra weight caused by the gas but that is minimal for the amount of energy that is returned from the gas...because if you didn't have the gas, your car would not go in the first place. In much the same way, having an extra 5lbs of fat will require more energy expenditure to walk to the front door of Wal-Mart ut that energy expenditure is more than offset by the amount of energy provided by that 5lbs of fat.

    That is, the two mistakes within this article are 1.) assuming that fat is "dead weight" and provides no energy and in fact must require more energy and 2.) assuming that a 240 lb man with 30% body fat must require more energy than a 235 lb man with 5% body fat just by virtue that he weighs more.

    July 1, 2012 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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    I have diet after diet and only one thing that has remarkable results is Plexus Slim, I recommend this to anyone that's struggling to get off the weight, it's an all natural supplement that has no caffeine, no stimulants and its not a meal replacement. Theirs so many benefits to the products you really need to go to the website your self and read about it. They also have a 60 day money back guarantee so you can't lose!
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    July 5, 2012 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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    You probably are eihetr allergic or have asthma. You might be allergic to dogs or cats. We cannot tell you what to do when you are not cleared by a physician. Your parents are responsible for your health. To neglect your health is cause for your teachers to contact CPS. I recommend that you execute your rights and go to the doctor with your insurance information and be diagnosed and treated. Should you wish to understand the legality of this information, view the laws regarding children's rights for your state or contact legal aide or the child neglect hotline

    September 11, 2012 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
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