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When will human beings be satiated?

February 21, 2008

Humans are susceptible to over-eating, and various physiological, evolutionary, biological, social and psychological reasons have been provided by scientists. Far too many to list here! Just listing a few which I personally feel are important reasons for over-eating:
woman.jpg (1) DNA has a say, as “people with fewer dopamine receptors in the brain need to take more rewarding substances, like food and drugs, to have the same effect that other people get with less. Dopamine is a pleasure reward chemical made by the brain that helps making eating and other behaviors more satisfying.
(2) A [Feb 2008] study has shown that the heavier you are, the less likely are you to experience feelings of fullness. The higher their BMI, the lower the likelihood of saying I feel full…
(3) A tendency to eat whenever food is available, an instinct from our evolutionary days when food wasn’t available 24×7.

Then there are the usual psychological reasons (eating because of boredom, entertainment, emotional disorders) plus social reasons (eating because of social cues) and probably many more(you are welcome to add any) but the end result is that our stomachs expand, and we eat more and more. Not surprisingly, our per capita food consumption is increasing, and sadly, is not going to fall, no not even in the rich countries where people are already eating more than enough!

Here are some statistics from the World Health Organisation: Global and regional per capita food consumption (kcal per capita per day)


South Asia’s eating more
In the seventies people in South Asian countries like India were consuming just 1,986 calories per day (reasonable enough, for an active human being) but by the late nineties it increased by over 20 percent and this growth is expected to continue. By 2030, India is expected to notch up another 20 percent growth over the 1999 figures.

I remember that way back in the seventies and eighties, one never even saw that much food around. There were far fewer restaurants and as for eating at street corners – it was frowned upon. Today, eating out is in.

Developed countries are stuffing themselves up too
The increase in food consumption in the developed countries is fairly high too – as much as 10 percent. Their base being higher, the increase is lower…but they too are stuffing themselves up.
And just look at those East Asian countries. An increase of 38% in the twenty year period from the seventies to the nineties! Their prosperity is showing.

Will our stomachs ever be stemmed?
Thankfully, the statistics do show a falling off. In the developed countries the food consumption per capita is supposed to increase by barely 5% by 2030. The increase in consumption levels of the East Asian countries is also expected to fall to 10 per cent. So food consumption levels don’t increase that much when humans near the 3000 calorie mark…but what’s worrying is that they still increase. Are we soon going to be huge species? 🙂

Are we ever going to be satiated?
So we know where we are going, whether we like it or not. We are all going to get bigger and fatter with each generation. Worse, we are heading for a situation where we will suffer from more diseases than we ever did, many of which will be caused by the food itself. 😦

Note 1: I have clubbed India under the category of ‘South Asia’ and not ‘Developing Countries’ although it falls under both categories. I felt the lower calorie consumption for South Asia fitted India better due to the widespread poverty here.

Note 2: This is a revised and updated version of a post I wrote a few weeks after I started blogging. I will be deleting that other post (less confusion for the google crawler!)

(photo is taken by me and is copyrighted)

Related Reading: India’s population to be two billion by the end of the century
Indians’ food expenses rising
America accuses India and China of eating too much!
Being plump is a sign of prosperity in India

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2008 9:34 am

    Strange to think that we’ve become so suicidal. We’re eating ourselves to death!

  2. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    February 21, 2008 10:53 am


    (you are welcome to add any)

    One important reason for overeating — true particularly for those of us who never really have to go hungry — is that the food tastes/smells/looks good! I am speaking primarily for myself, but know this to be true of many others too.

    Two key points which would make your post more complete:

    1. How many kcal/day/person are really needed for a healthy life? There is no simple answer. It depends on age, the kind of work the person is occupied in, the kind of diet, the kind of climatic environment etc.

    2. What are the food sources of those calories? Do they constitute a healthy diet in terms of all the different kinds of nutrients w need?

  3. February 21, 2008 11:57 am

    hmm..guess we all need to think while eating…a lot of problems need to be solved,including poverty,illiteracy etc…

  4. February 21, 2008 12:36 pm

    Purnima, couldn’t agree more!

    Vivek, yes, that is a very good point..all those yummy looking dishes which make one’s mouth water!
    About your other points, well, if I had the answers to the two questions I would surely have liked to answer them. But as you yourself said (Q 1) there is no one answer that fits all. The person needs to consult a dietician. And about Q 2, you will find it on umpteen sites on the internet and therefore did not add that here. It’s a very common thing that keeps appearing in mags and newspapers, and also depends on your region (food availibility). Another reason for not adding it, is that it did not fit in with the theme of the article ( are we eating too much) and I always try to keep things focussed. That’s the journalist in me…because there is no end to writing on a particular subject you know. One has to draw a full-stop, esp in a blog post because people don’t have time to read a large, unfocussed article, however good it is. –

    Vishesh, I suggest we should donate at least one meal a week to the poor!

  5. February 21, 2008 1:22 pm

    @ Nita

    In the interest of fairness (to those who discuss this point just as amateur anthropologists) and of not hogging your blog post, I think I should sit this one out, especially since I can counter every point with a truck load of evidence. 🙂

  6. February 21, 2008 1:43 pm

    Ahh! An expert on obesity, I acknowledge! 🙂 True, the subject as to why we over-eat is very complex and my post is for laymen (written by a layman!) and I have no doubt that you know far more than me on this subject. However, the main issue here is that we are eating more (whatever the various reasons, some of which I have mentioned (not my view as I am no obesity expert) and whether we will ever be satiated. The WHO table seems to suggest not really. If you have anything to add on this aspect I will be most grateful.- Nita.

  7. February 21, 2008 2:59 pm

    @ Nita:

    “..However, the main issue here is that we are eating more..”

    That itself is not as “given” as you have assumed. But I will, as I said, sit this one out 🙂

    PS: I have a cold etc – once in every 7 or 8 years so I am a very bad and impatient patient, but trying to stay offline.

    well, get well soon then! – Nita.

  8. Raj permalink
    February 21, 2008 5:06 pm


    Thanks for offering us so much food ! (for thought ofcourse) 😀

    // Worse, we are heading for a situation where we will suffer from more diseases than we ever did, many of which will be caused by the food itself. //

    We will suffer from more lifestyle diseases for sure,which may bring down the life expectancy,notwithstanding advances made by medicine.

    // Are we soon going to be huge species? 🙂 //

    Maybe . . . maybe not . . .If current lifestyles are any indication,the shape of the human body will change.Our legs will become shorter but our torsos would increase in size,our arms would shorten,but our hands would become bigger and the fingers longer,our foreheads would start bulging out,even as our heads become bigger.Internally,the stomach (and other parts of the digestive system) will marginalise organs like the heart and lungs,but externally,I think pot-bellies may become a standard feature 🙂

  9. February 21, 2008 7:57 pm

    There is talk of a ‘thrifty gene’ that has developed over the years of food deprivation that has turned us into people who easily store calories as fat.
    There is a ‘Yagnik hypothesis’ that Asians are a special class of humans in the sense that for the same Body Mass Index as Asian will have much higher body fat compared to a Caucasian. This is a putative explanation for Asian obesity, and an argument for us to lower the BMI criteria for obese Asians while considering bariatric surgery for them.
    Not sure how much of all this is fun theory and how much actual scientific evidence.

  10. February 21, 2008 9:06 pm

    not just in terms of food , as the country develops its appetite for more is insatiable –
    in the us the food portions r so large that wastage is fairly common – here too there is scant regard for food especially in areas where incomes r high and junk food is in.

    india is world diabetes capital and eating and working habits have changed over years, and so has stress.
    plus modern stuff n machines hav made us a lot less hard working

  11. February 22, 2008 2:36 am

    Over-eating is gluttony and a sin. It is also the by-product of a spiritually broken society. Food becomes a tool to displace worry, fear, and a lack of purpose. Obese self-medicate because they have psychological defects and need to seek help.

  12. Sekhar permalink
    February 22, 2008 6:42 am

    Hi Nita,

    Very good post and points worth talking about. I think this is not just a spiritual/psychological or physiological condition (though these may also contribute to overeating).

    Ignoring these aspects, I think the kind of diet we eat also influences the tendency to overeat.

    I think the tendency to overeat has started roughly around the same time that people started focussing on reducing the intake of fats.

    Contrary to what people think, good fats (like pure butter, whole milk, even good quality ghee) not only provide plenty of vit. A and vit. D, and other important co-factors, BUT they also give us the feeling of being satiated and prevent us from overeating.

    When you skip good sources of fat, you bypass this feeling and you don’t feel satiated. Thus you end up eating more than you would otherwise.

    Before people jump on me for supporting the “fat is good” theory, I must add that more important than just consuming any fat, it is the kind of fat AND it’s quality that is vital.

    For example, the quality of the butter depends on the quality of the milk, which in turn depends on the quality of the food given to the cow. So, you see how every link in the food chain is interconnected.

    Strangely, if you look at the evidence, people had less health problems (on an average) when they consumed more good quality fats. When India was still primarily an agricultural society where fresh food and butter/ghee were eaten more frequently, there were less health issues.


    Sekhar, a lot of people believe that good fats are good, and I guess the human body does need a certain amount of fat. I have talked to sevaral dieticians about this for some of my other articles and they all agree…but most people (assuming they are normal, healthy, physically and mentally) need to keep the ratio of input (food intake) and output (calories spent) in balance. This isn’t happening. As fat has more calories, even a little extra adds up… – Nita.

  13. wahi786 permalink
    February 22, 2008 6:44 am

    Just yesterday I was reading about the increasing trend of aneroxic teens in Asia in the paper (Urban lifestyle – Straits Times Times, Singapore). Maybe, your post has been generalised to suit all age groups.

    Aneroxics are a small percentage of the population (that too it mostly affects the young) and as far as I know aneroxia is a psychological disorder. Generally speaking, people are eating more. – Nita.

  14. Sekhar permalink
    February 22, 2008 9:52 am

    Hi Nita,

    Thanks for addressing my comment. You are right that there should be a balance between caloric intake and energy output. Obviously, exercise and fresh air are equally important.

    However, as I mentioned in my post, it’s hard to take too much of fat because fat not only makes you feel satiated very quickly (provided you are not swallowing it), it also makes you feel full longer. That was what i was trying to say.

    If you try to eat chappattis with 2 spoonfuls of ghee for every chappatti instead of half a spoon, you will see that you will feel full with just 3 chappatti’s instead of 6. And what’s more you won’t feel hungry for a long time.

    I know this because I have experienced it myself.

    Of course, my theory applies with all other things being equal.


  15. February 22, 2008 10:38 am

    Raj, if pot bellies become a regular feature I won’t be surprised at all. However, there is evidence that humans are growing taller…

    johnnypeepers, I guess some over-eaters do have problems like you mentioned…

    this penchant for eating junk food has increased because of more money that people have to spend. And hundreds of eateries have sprung up to cater to the demand!

    Rdoc, unfortunately theories abound where this subject is concerned. I have heard of this thrifty gene too and a predisposition of Indians (I don’t think all Asians as in east asia like say Japan and China, the people are slim, even the well-ones ones) to put on weight. As you said, some more scientific evidence will turn up and give more explanations!

    Wahi, I have replied to your comment in the comment itself.

  16. February 23, 2008 9:09 am

    Shefaly, after your comment on yesterday’s post, I came back to your comment in this post. You said:

    //n the interest of fairness (to those who discuss this point just as amateur anthropologists) and of not hogging your blog post, I think I should sit this one out, especially since I can counter every point with a truck load of evidence//

    Sure, we area all amateur antropologists or whatever 🙂 but I had said in my first para itself:
    //Humans are susceptible to over-eating, and various physiological, evolutionary, biological, social and psychological reasons have been provided by scientists. Far too many to list here! Just listing a few which I personally feel are important reasons for over-eating//

    So I have said that the reasons are wide in scope, and I am unable to list them all, so therefore I fail to understand your comment where you say that you can “counter” each statement with a ‘truckload of evidence.’ Now that I look back on it, I am quite flummoxed by your response. I am sure you wanted to counter the scientists, but it did not come out clearly in your comment…

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