Hard times are ahead

Last month was a red-letter month for the future of mankind as the world population passed 7 billion. Unfortunately, this fact dovetails with recent research that indicates it is likely that one-half of all Americans will be diabetic by 2050 (1).

The combination of these two trends does not bode well for the future. To begin with, how are we going to feed all these people? Most of the arable land on the planet is already under cultivation. Furthermore, urbanization is destroying prime cropland at a rapid pace.

Added to these facts is that the diversity of most of the world’s calories is rapidly decreasing. Currently the five top sources of calories in the world are corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and potatoes (as well as its kissin’ cousin cassava, which is incredibly poor in protein and nutrients). The first two crops (corn and soy) are rich sources of omega-6 fatty acids. In addition, corn, wheat, and rice provide extremely high-glycemic carbohydrates that can be easily refined to last forever and make thus a wide variety of processed foods. (Potatoes and cassava tend to decompose rapidly and can’t be easily refined, except perhaps as potato chips). As a consequence, omega-6 fatty acids and refined carbohydrates are now the cheapest form of calories in the world. In fact, it is estimated that they are 400 times less expensive per calorie than fresh fruits and vegetables.

So how can you feed this growing population of more than 7 billion people? The answer is easy—produce even more refined carbohydrates and omega-6 fatty acids.

Unfortunately, feeding the growing population of the world with cheap omega-6 fatty acids and refined carbohydrates is exactly the best way to increase cellular inflammation and drive the development of diabetes (2). It is estimated that by 2050 diabetes will be the primary non-infectious disease on the planet. This is equally bad news as it is also the most expensive chronic disease to treat on a long-term basis.

Today, more than 26 percent of all Americans older than 65 has diabetes. If the estimates of increased diabetes are correct (1), then it is likely that the number of Americans older than 65 in 2050 with diabetes may be greater than 50 percent. The current level of diabetes is the primary reason why our health-care expenses are spiraling out of control. If you double number of older Americans with diabetes by 2050, there is no way the current health-care system, as we know it can possibly survive. Add to the fact that once you have diabetes, you are 2-4 times more likely to develop heart disease and Alzheimer’s. It is not a very pleasant picture of the future of health care in America.

What can you do about it? On a global basis, not much unless you would like to see an apocalyptic event that reduces the population from 7 billion to a more manageable 1-2 billion individuals. Of course, this is highly unlikely. However, on the individual basis there is a lot you can do to protect yourself in the future. Simply take control of your future by focusing on managing cellular inflammation for a lifetime by following an anti-inflammatory diet. This may be your only real health security in times of increasing demands on the planet’s resources to produce food. There is no question that we have other troubles brewing like climate change, decreasing water supplies, and decreasing cheap energy, all of which will also impact the cost of food, driving more individuals toward inexpensive sources of calories no matter what the health consequences. But the rise of diabetes will occur first.

Old folks like myself will probably be OK, but the future generations will take the brunt of trouble brewing ahead.


  1. Boyle JP , Thompson TJ, Gregg EW, Barker LE, and Williamson DF. “Projection of the year 2050 burden of diabetes in the US adult population: dynamic modeling of incidence, mortality, and prediabetes prevalence.” Population Health Metrics 8:29 (2010)
  2. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
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This entry was posted in Zone Diet and tagged , , , , , , by Dr. Barry Sears. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 30 years to the study of lipids. He has published more than 30 scientific articles and holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 13 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". These books have sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

7 thoughts on “Hard times are ahead

  1. You got it.

    Those of us who are going Paleo and growing some of our own products may last a few more generations.

    Evolution, and the lack of political will to act, and diabetes may halt the population growth. The survivors may be better able to handle a high sugar diet. The world will survive. How about man? China took the preemptive step with the one child policy.

    But that is the problem of future generations that we can see coming. Perhaps, unless we change. I will keep growing near organic.

  2. This is interesting because I just watched the documentary called food inc and it basically states that basically everything we are currently ingesting today is made from corn extract. It is no suprise these statistics you are stating about diabetes is so startling! Although I thought 26% over 65 would have been higher..anywho, thanks for the read!

    • Hi, Dr. Sears,
      Your next book sounds very interesting. A few questions:
      1) The data on the new work being done in neuroplasticity is very exciting to me, and informs my teaching in my university classes. Is your writing of the new book informed by any of this new research? I’m thinking of such works as The Brain that Changes Itself.
      2) Is there a yoga book or approach you recommend and/or are using in your research?
      3) I’m very interested in the subject of your new book. I have been incorporating some of the yoga asanas into my teaching acting, movement and voice…Please say more and suggest some texts…

  3. It blows my mind that with as many homeowners there are in the US at least that each person is not using their property to grow their own food. This is ridiculous. With all the creative and green ways to grow food with or without soil, all open-pollenated seeds available and the farmer’s markets. Most towns and cities allow for some small livestock to be grown such as chickens which eat bugs, lay eggs, fertilize gardens and can be used as food.

    China has its own problems with the 1 child policy. I don’t have all the sources but I’ve been reading articles here and there for years that talk about all the social and economical ills of their policy. They won’t have much of a workforce to provide for their population and people kidnap girls and women to take as wives and who knows what else and that is not okay. Of course the other end of the pendulum is observed and humans don’t only eat in a way that destroys society, but they reproduce in ways that just don’t make sense in the scheme of things. As for us who are Christians, I don’t think it is okay to say that only having one, two or three children means you don’t love God, blah blah blah. Being forced into being a relentless brood mare is not my idea of a joyful life, unless for the rare few, that is what you want.
    I am struggling to cut processed foods out of my diet. To the point that it means I may never be able to have peace in my household. For me it is going to be a spiritual journey since I am the only person I can control and hope others see how my health has benefited from it. We can only affect those around us and hope it spreads. Grow a garden in your yard and encourage others to do so!!!!

  4. The anti-inflammatory recipes in Dr.Sears book are a step in the right direction..My suggestion would be to start with Zone Meals in Minutes, then Mastering the Zone..The anti-inflammation zone was written with the intent to introduce high dose fish oil to balance AA and EA..However, the recipes in this book introduce spices such as turmeric and ginger which may be an acquired taste for some dieters..
    Nevertheless, no matter what book you use stick to the easiest to prepare recipes..If you can remember the ingredients of your “favorites” you can easily make the right choices should you be at a restaurant or trying to teach others..

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