Over four billion people could be overweight by the year 2050, with 1.5 billion of them obese or morbidly obese, if the current global dietary trend towards processed foods continues, a first-of-its-kind study reported on Wednesday. Experts from thePotsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) warned of a health and environmental crisis of “mind-blowing magnitude”. The study suggests that global food demand could will leap by 50% mid-century, far more than Earth’s capacity to sustain nature.
Food production is responsible for using three-quarters of the world’s fresh water, and one-third of its land. It is also responsible for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions. The study provided a long-term overview of changing eating habits globally between 1965 and 2100. Researchers used an open-source model to forecast how food demand would respond to a variety of factors such as population growth, ageing, growing body mass, declining physical activity and increased food wastage.
If the world should continue with the current trends, it will likely result in more than four billion people, or 45% of the world’s population being overweight by 2050. The model predicts that 16% of these could be obese. This in comparison to the current 29% of overweight population and 16% obesity.
“The increasing waste of food and the rising consumption of animal protein mean that the environmental impact of our agricultural system will spiral out of control,” said the lead author of the study published in Nature Scientific Reports, Benjamin Bodirsky, . “Whether greenhouse gasses, nitrogen pollution or deforestation: we are pushing the limits of our planet – and exceeding them.”
While trends do vary according to location, the authors said that global eating habits were moving away from plant- and starch-based diets to more “affluent diets high in sugar, fat, and animal-source foods, featuring highly-processed food products”.
The study also found that with the current food wastage trend and the produced food that is not consumed, undernourished people will be at around 500-million. “There is enough food in the world — the problem is that the poorest people on our planet have simply not the income to purchase it,” said co-author Prajal Pradhan. “And in rich countries, people don’t feel the economic and environmental consequences of wasting food.”