How to feed the world

Posted on October 27, 2011

(Last Updated On: October 27, 2017)

Apparently our species will hit 7 billion people on October 31st. Many are talking about the challenges that presents. One I see regularly coming up is how we’re going to feed everyone. Apparently 1 billion people are already suffering from chronic hunger, so obviously the thinking goes with more people it’s going to be harder to feed that already hungry 1 billion, and that 1 billion is likely to grow.

Article after article I’ve read keeps talking about needing more efficient agriculture, new technology, etc. While it’s admirable to want to make sure everyone on earth is well fed, these solutions are bewildering.

As a species we have NEVER been better or more efficient at feeding ourselves. Christ, in the last 30 years the amount of people who are obese has DOUBLED. Humans have never, ever, been more fed. We’re so well fed now we actually are quite good at killing ourselves because we are TOO fed.

The amount of food we have available is not the problem regarding 1 billion people being hungry. It’s just that some people have a lot more of it than others. And yet barely anything I have read proposes a solution of getting people to eat less. This isn’t complicated- if people don’t eat as much, we don’t need to produce as much food, plus we will have more food to distribute.

Here’s another idea: According to the WHO 1 billion are hungry but 1.8 billion are obese. (You are considered obese if you have a BMI over 30.) Let’s say the average obese person’s BMI is 35. They’re not just a little obese but they’re not morbidly obese either.

Ok, a healthy BMI is considered somewhere between 18.5 and 24.9. Let’s say an average healthy BMI is about 21, right in the middle.

Next, the average height of a human is approximately 1.65 meters, or 5 feet 4 inches (keep in mind my Americano friends a lot of the world is shorter than us).

So, if we take an average healthy BMI of 21 and an average height of 1.65 meters that equates to a body weight of 126 lbs. (I’ll detail the math at the end of this if you’re interested.)

Alright, on the other end we have our average obese person with the same average height of 1.65 meters but a BMI of 35. That equates to a body weight of 210lbs.

Again, average healthy weight = 126lbs and average obese weight = 210lbs.

Let’s say we get 1 billion obese people to cut what they eat in half (I realize this is extreme) so that eventually their body weight would be cut in half to 105lbs. Giving them a still nearly healthy BMI of 17.4.

All of a sudden we have 1 billion people who each have given up eating 105lbs worth of food. That’s 105lbs worth of calories that each of the hungry 1 billion could be eating. That’s 1600 calories PER DAY, PER PERSON, now available.

Yes, I realize this isn’t realistic. It’s probably impossible to get that many obese people to eat that much less. But guess what, that 1 billion hungry people don’t all need an extra 1600 calories a day. Maybe they only need half that to get rid of their hunger. Then the obese person only needs to cut what they eat by 25% instead of cutting their food intake in half. That’s pretty reasonable, and healthy for everyone.

Oh, and remember, there may be 1 billion hungry but there are 1.8 billion obese. That means there’s still 800 million obese people who haven’t cut what they have eaten at all yet! That’s a lot of left over food.

My point with all this isn’t the above is the be-all end-all solution to solving the world’s hunger issues. My point is there should be much more talk about how much food is already present and how we can distribute it better. If there really is an issue of providing hungry people with food, and it’s due to food shortage, one method of getting them food should be getting the overfed to eat less. And remember I’m not talking about those that might be a bit overweight, after all it’s typically better to be a bit overweight than underweight, I’m talking about those who are overfed to the point of being unhealthy.

What’s the point of getting more efficient at producing food if the same people who already have the most access to it are going to be the same people who already have the most access? The amount of hungry people will stay the same and the overfed will simply be more overfed.

Lastly, I especially love people’s comments about how “we’re so overweight and obese yet so malnourished at the same time.” We’re so malnourished yet humans have never lived longer than we do now. I mean, how many people do you know dying of rickets? Or how about scurvy?  Everybody knows somebody whose hair is falling out due to protein deficiency, right? According to the WHO, “65% of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.” In the majority of areas overnourishment kills more people than undernourishment!


The math behind the numbers for those who love algebra:

BMI = (body weight in kg) / (height in meters)^2

Average height of human = 1.65 meters (Wikipedia)

-Average BMI of healthy person = 21

= (body weight in kg) / (1.65)^2

=> 57.2 kg = 126lbs average weight of average healthy person.

-Average BMI of obese person = 35

= (body weight in kg) / (1.65)^2

=> 95.5 kg = 210lbs average weight of average obese person.

-Average obese person eats half of what they used to and eventually cuts their body weight in half

=> 210lbs / 2 = 105lbs. 105lbs = 47.2kg.

=> 47.2kg / (1.65)^2 = 17.35 BMI.

-A person’s body weight multiplied by 15 is a widely accepted way of estimating how many calories one eats per day. For example, 105lbs x 15 = ~1600 calories.


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