More than 4 billion people could be overweight by 2050, with 1.5 billion of them obese, if the current global dietary trend towards processed foods continues, a study revealed on Wednesday predicts.
Warning of a health and environmental crisis of “mind-blowing magnitude”, experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) said that global food demand would leap 50 percent by mid-century, pushing past Earth’s capacity to sustain nature.
Food production already takes up three-quarters of the world’s fresh water and one-third of its land and also accounts for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions.
Providing a long-term overview of changing global eating habits between 1965 and 2100, the 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 masses, declining physical activity and increased food waste.
They found that “business as usual” will likely see more than four billion people, or 45 percent of the world’s population, overweight by 2050.
The model predicted that 16 percent would be obese, compared with nine percent currently among the 29 percent of the population who are overweight.
“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 Benjamin Bodirsky, lead author of the study published in Nature Scientific Reports.
“Whether greenhouse gasses, nitrogen pollution or deforestation: we are pushing the limits of our planet — and exceeding them.”
While trends vary between regions, 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”.