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Food Demands Are Set to Dramatically Increase by 2050

According to a recently released report, evolving eating habits, and a population of taller and heavier people who live longer may create new food security issues.

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Thanks to a very real set of issues facing our planet, scientists and other experts have been making several predictions and recommendations about what the future of our world could or will look like. It seems everywhere you look, 2050 hangs above as a deadline for us to realize certain target that will decide our long-term fate.

These reminders include everything from ambitious schemes to phase out fossil fuels completely by mid-century, to calculating the energy needs required to keep cool by 2050. Now, according to a team of experts, one of the largest looming threats will relate to our food supply. The main two reasons behind the anticipated shift: the global population is (1) heavier and (2) living longer than ever before. 

A Complex Picture Emerges

The researchers, headed by a team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), designed a study that looked at the a number of factors covering a span of roughly 40 years (1975-2014) from a total of 186 countries, with the goal of "analyz[ing] the combined effect of biophysical and demographic changes in the adult population."

They found that not one single factor, but a combination, explains the results. “We studied the effects of two phenomena. One is that people on average have become taller and heavier. The second is that the average population is getting older,” said Gibran Vita, a Ph.D. candidate in the university's Industrial Ecology Programme who was also involved in the study.

The illustration below created by the researchers puts the issue into perspective:

Source: Vásquez and Vita et al.

The team found for the average adult on the whole:

--> They live to be 6.2% older than before.

--> They are 1.3% taller.

--> They are a staggering 14% heavier.

--> 6.1% greater energy is needed, which directly equates to increased food consumption needs.

“An average global adult consumed 2465 kilocalories per day in 1975. In 2014, the average adult consumed 2615 kilocalories,” explains Vita.

A Numbers Game

Complicating the issue is the fact that the world population, currently at 7.6 billion, is expected to swell to 9 billion in the next three decades, which will present a completely new set of challenges.  Vita, puts it plainly, stressing, “It will be harder to feed 9 billion people in 2050 than it would be today."

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Compiling a large data pool that takes into account these factors allowed the researchers to create a more compelling case for why we urgently need to change our current conversations about future food security issues. This all suggests that we are dealing with a complex and multi-faceted issue that goes beyond discussions about fighting the battle of the bulge.

In the not-too-distant future, we will see even more strains on global food supplies, but with measured planning and clear objectives in place, the rise in food resources can keep up with the rise in the population. 

Details about the study appear in a paper, titled "Food Security for an Aging and Heavier Population", which was published October 15th in the Sustainability journal.

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