This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Food Balancing Act

Philosophers through the ages, including Aristotle, Confucius, and Buddha, have extolled the virtue of the golden man, of balance, of the middle way. When it comes to world food security issues, we seem to have lost that way. There are literally billions of people in the world who have too little to eat, while another billion or two have dramatically more than they need to eat. The danger of eating too much, especially when it is not very nutritious, is illustrated by the global trend in obesity. Obesity is closely related to type 2 diabetes, which has been implicated in a shortening of life expectancy in Europe and North America, and almost certainly elsewhere.

The analysis used pooled medical information for 820,900 people from nearly 100 studies done mostly in Europe and North America. The results are published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
A 50-year-old with diabetes dies six years sooner than someone without the disease, and not just from a heart attack or a stroke, new research suggests.
The large international effort to measure diabetes' toll found the disease also raises the risk of dying prematurely from a host of other ailments, even breast cancer and pneumonia.
 "It's quite a wide sweep of conditions," said Dr. John Danesh of Cambridge University in Britain, who led the team of researchers. While most people think of heart problems, diabetes surprisingly "appears to be associated with a much broader range of health implications than previously suspected."Putting the six years lost in context, he said, long-term smoking shortens life by 10 years.
An important aspect of over-eating is related to meat consumption. Animals are relatively poor converters of calories and it takes a lot of food to grow an animal before it is killed to be eaten by humans. Eating less meat would almost certainly improve our health while at the same time freeing up massive amounts of acreage for growing grain for human consumption. The Economist discussed this issue in its recent report on global food security, as it proposed that, if the world is going to continue to consume meat at an ever higher rate, free range will have to give way to penned animals:
This will not happen everywhere. Europeans and—to some extent—Americans are increasingly influenced by welfare concerns. They jib at confining animals. The European Union has banned certain kinds of cages, and California is following suit. But, so far, people in emerging markets, where demand for meat and animal products is growing fast, are less concerned about such things, so the next stage of the livestock revolution will mainly be concentrated there.
This is not something that we should just glibly watch happen. We, and the animals, will all be better off with a new food balancing act.

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