4 billion people worldwide will be overweight by 2050, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·3 min read
Weight control concept. Bathroom scale isolated on white background, top view. 3d illustration
Nearly half the world's population is expected to be overweight in three decades' time. (Getty Images)

More than four billion people worldwide could be overweight by 2050 if our unhealthy eating habits continue, research suggests.

Scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany modelled how food demand may respond to factors like population growth, ageing, growing body mass indexes, declining physical activity and increased waste.

Results suggest that if current trends continue, more than four billion people – or 45% of the world's population – will be overweight in three decades’ time.

Of these, 16% will be obese.

Read more: Obesity on the rise among reception-aged children in England

The scientists blamed the increasing move away from plant-based ways of eating towards more “affluent diets high in sugar, fat and animal-source foods, featuring highly-processed food products”.

A close up of a woman eating a vegan meal in a local cafe with friends.
Scientists blamed 'diets high in sugar, fat and animal-source foods, featuring highly-processed food products'. (Stock, Getty Images)

More than four million people die a year as a result of being overweight or obese, with the World Health Organization claiming the “issue has grown to epidemic proportions”.

More people are said to be obese than underweight in every global region, aside from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Read more: Watershed junk food adverts could save 40,000 UK children from obesity

Carrying a dangerous amount of weight has been linked to everything from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to arthritis and even certain cancers.

Amid the pandemic, statistics have repeatedly flagged obese people are more likely to endure coronavirus complications.

Watch: The facts about coronavirus and obesity

Just under a third (29%) of the global population is currently overweight, of whom 9% are obese.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the Potsdam scientists warned an upcoming health and environmental crisis could be of “mind-blowing magnitude”, with the global demand for food set to increase by 50% mid-century.

Food production already takes up three-quarters of the world’s fresh water and one-third of its land, while also being responsible for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The increasing waste of food and the rising consumption of animal protein mean the environmental impact of our agricultural system will spiral out of control,” said lead author Benjamin Bodirsky, according to AFP.

Read more: Half a glass of wine a day linked to obesity

The scientists also estimated around half a billion people will be malnourished by 2050.

They put this down to increasing inequalities, along with food waste and loss – defined as products that are produced but not consumed due to a lack of storage or overbuying.

“There is enough food in the world,” said co-author Prajal Pradhan.

“The problem is the poorest people on our planet have simply not the income to purchase it.”

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year humanity will face trade-offs between food security and rising temperatures within decades unless emissions are curbed, and unsustainable farming and deforestation halted.

Watch: Obesity during pregnancy linked to foetal brain development