Earth’s human population just hit 7 billion, and all of that growth is placing an enormous strain on precious resources like food and water. Experts say the ideal population in order to have bustling cities, plenty of wilderness and abundant resources for all is between 1.5 and 2 billion people – and we’re projected to hit 9 billion by the year 2050. But it’s not just population growth that’s causing a problem. A new report has found that obesity adds the equivalent of another half billion people to the planet.

The British Medical Council determined that 15 million tons of the global adult human biomass of 287 tons can be traced back to the extra poundage that many people – especially Americans – are carrying around. North America has just 6% of the world’s population but 34% of its obesity, while Asia represents 61% of the population and just 13% of total human biomass from obesity.

Here’s a sobering fact that puts this information into perspective: the strain that obesity causes to food resources shifts food away from millions of hungry people. 7,886,564 people could be fed with the food energy used to maintain the extra biomass associated with overweight people.

What would happen if every other country in the world had as many overweight and obese people as America? It would add the equivalent of an extra 935 million people of average BMI to the planet. Most other nations may not be anywhere near the United States’ status as fat capital of the world, but they’re getting there: obesity is increasingly a global issue.

When it comes to the pressure that the human population puts on global resources, the problem is not so much unchecked growth as it is consumption – not just of food, but energy, CO2 and waste-producing consumer goods. An April 2012 report from Britain’s Royal Society emphasizes that both population and consumption must be pushed to the top of political agendas in order to achieve long and healthy lives for the world’s projected population of 9 billion in 2050.

“The number of people living on the planet has never been higher, their levels of consumption are unprecedented and vast changes are taking place in the environment. We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption … or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future.”

Main photo credit: Lauren Manning