The Fat Map – Insights from Princess Haya Al Hussein

by Christine Sine

In 2006 the UN World Food Program produced but never publicly released this map charting food consumption. Depending on your perspective it maps obesity or starvation.

The Fat Map via Huffington Post

The Fat Map via Huffington Post

In an article in Huffington post Princess Haya Al Hussein commented:

The mis-distribution of food goes deeper than even the “Fat Map” implies. In India, for example, more than 300 million overweight people coexist with another 300 million who starve. Chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease that often stem from overeating are growing at a far faster rate in developing countries than in the more prosperous West. In my own region, the Middle East, obesity is skyrocketing, especially among young people.

In 2007-2008, a global food crisis surprised us as prices soared. But would the crisis have been as severe if we were not so accustomed to wasting the food we have?

The data was updated in 2012, and American Samoa and Saudi Arabia pushed the U.S. out of the top position. Reuters estimated that obesity in America added an astounding $190 billion to the annual national healthcare price tag, exceeding smoking as public health enemy number one when it comes to cost. According to Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois, the extra weight carried by vehicles as a result of obese and overweight Americans is responsible for almost one billion additional gallons of gasoline being burned each year by our automobiles—nearly 1 percent of our total gasoline usage.

In some places overeating has become a popular spectator sport with You Tube videos of overeating competitions receiving hundreds of thousands of hits.

I realize that this is not a simple eat less be healthy equation. Some people who are fat are very healthy and some who are skinny suffer from eating disorders that are as detrimental to their health as overeating is. However the inequity of food distribution and the resulting starvation, even in developing nations is something that should outrage us, and the complacency with which we watch starving children in Africa while consuming enormous meals that give us heart disease and diabetes should have us on our knees in repentance.

There is another dimension to this too. Currently, in the U.S., almost half of our food — 40 percent of what we grow— ends up in the garbage. Globally, food waste is rising to 50 percent as developing nations struggle with spoilage and Western nations simply toss edible food away. Instead of turning our food system inside out to meet that 2050 deadline, why don’t we simply waste less?

Of course cutting down on my wastage here in the U.S. will not help starving children in Africa, but as Jesse Hirsch and Reyhan Harmanci point out in Food Waste: The Next Revolution it might help keep food prices down so that their parents can afford to buy food.

Hirsch and Reyhan also point out that the environmental toll for throwing away so much uneaten food is also costly. Of the millions of tons that we waste in America each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 96 percent ends up in landfills. Food waste is the number one material taking up landfill space, more than paper or plastic. This produces methane gas, one of the most harmful atmospheric pollutants.

So as you think about the challenges of hunger this week, think too about how much food waste you create each week. How much of it goes into the landfill?

Now ponder Princess Hussein’s question about the food crisis we still face: Would the crisis we have be as severe if we were not so accustomed to wasting the food we have? You might like to read through this list Don’t Waste Food: Eat Your Trash and Improve your Cooking of possible ways to cut back on your food waste. Perhaps we can all save enough money to help those who really need that food.


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