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Our World in the Year 2020

Food and Diet

Revenge of the Foodies

food and diet

— Viktor Koen

BREAKING WEBLINE NEWS ALERT, 9.24.2020: Americans are no longer the world's No. 1 gluttons, though it's not because we've lost weight. The rest of the world just got bigger. Meanwhile a new fat cure is hitting the grocery shelves: a yogurt loaded with obesity-fighting bacteria.

Could intestinal microbes help shrink our bellies? Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are studying links between obesity and the trillions of bacteria inside the body that help digest food. The high-fat Western-style diet, they found, encourages a type of gut microbe that extracts calories more efficiently, which raises the possi ­ bility that we can shed pounds (or fight malnutrition) by adjusting our bacterial balance with probiotics, or microbe-laden supplements.

The research could not only produce a fat-fighting bug; it might help the hundreds of millions of people who are hungry. Obesity and malnutrition could double in the next 10 years, a paradox fed by the spread of the Western-style diet and the growing risk of famine from overpopulation, extreme weather, and political instability, says Robert Lawrence, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. If those trends continue, says Lawrence, treating the world's diet-related ills will "make our current health bill look rather modest." His advice: Eat your veggies — plant-based foods use less land, water, and energy than meat and dairy. This will help ensure there's enough to go around in 2020.

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