For the first time in the long and mostly sad history of humanity, "there are now more fatty lardbuckets on the planet than there are undernourished people," notes the Adam Smith Insitute, a British libetarian think tank.
More precisely, a study in the British medical journal The Lancet that looked at global Body Mass Indices (BMIs) finds that, between 1975 and 2014, "The world has transitioned from an era when underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity, to one in which more people are obese than underweight." Global lifespans over the same 40-year period cranked up from 59 years to over 71 years and while malnutrition still persists in places, The Lancet notes, "The world is at once fatter and healthier."
The reasons for this momentous tipping of the scales are mostly linked to all the things current candidates running for president of the United States have lately started attacking, such as freer trade, globalization, and automation. Some of our trade deficit with China, for instance, surely ends up being consumed as food by the people there, whose long history of starving was part of every baby boomer and even GenXer's childhood: Eat your food. There are children starving in China. The machines, robots, and other technology that free all but 1 percent of Americans from agriculture (what Marx and Engels themselves slagged as "the idiocy of rural life) mean we get more food out of smaller numbers people and smaller plots of land. And of course, letting the wretched of the Earth move from poorer countries to richer countries plays a role (even as those poorer countries themselves get richer).
As Reason's Ronald Bailey, whose book The End of Doom, exhaustively charts these sorts of great improvements in other areas, writes, "poverty and with it, malnourishment] has been receding at the same time that economic freedom has been rising around the globe."
But of course every silver lining must include a cloud, right? And so The Lancet sees not a cause of celebration when "what's for lunch" is no longer quite the existential riddle but only grounds for gloom and doom. As one of the authors of the study says:
Although it is reassuring that the number of underweight individuals has decreased over the last four decades, global obesity has reached crisis point.
We hope these findings create an imperative to shift responsibility from the individual to governments and to develop and implement policies to address obesity.
I'm pretty confident that state-based solutions to people having too much food will lick that problem like, well, Mr. Creosote licking his plate. Aren't you?