Slim Chance in a Fat World: Can Entrepreneurs Help?

It seems paradoxical that two of our major life-threatening worldwide challenges are at opposite ends of the nutrition spectrum. At one extreme, increasing portions of the world’s population are at risk of under-nourishment and/or starvation. At the other extreme, increasing portions of the world’s population are obese and at risk for associated consequences.

Doubling the World Food Supply: As Kirchner Group colleague and friend, Steve Dauphin, has eloquently pointed out, it is imperative that we find a way to double the world food supply in the next forty years to provide adequate nutrition to an increasingly at-risk portion of the world’s population (read blog here). There is also a simultaneous and menacingly immediate imperative that we figure out how to address the escalating portion of the world’s population that is overweight or obese.

Starvation ObesityUnder “Normal” Circumstances: Readers with a basic understanding of statistics will be familiar with the bell-curve or normal distribution of a population sample. In such distributions, most individuals fall toward the middle rather than at the extremes. The intelligence quotient (IQ) is a recognizable example that is commonly reflected by such a distribution. Applying this logic to nutritional health, if a range is considered from death due to starvation to death due to conditions associated with obesity, most people in this illustration would die from neither. They would presumably live longer and richer lives.

Anything but “Normal”: However, left unchecked, a significant and increasing portion of the world will become “fatter” while at the opposite extreme a greater portion of the world population is at risk of under-nourishment. One might imagine that the “normal” distribution will become bi-modal and increasingly approximate a parabolic u-shaped curve. In other words, more and more people would die from conditions associated with under-nutrition or starvation and conditions associated with obesity, thus the paradox mentioned previously.

Why might an approximation of this distribution become a reality? While there may be many factors interacting in ways we do not completely understand, there is at least one simple reality. There is a growing nutritional disparity between those who are “affluent” versus those who are “very poor.” Therefore, nutritional consumption versus energy expenditure patterns are increasingly different for ever-growing segments of the world population.

The Fat Facts: In general, an alarming percentage of humans are fat and getting fatter. According to the World Health Organization:

  • Obesity has more than doubled since 1980.
  • In 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults, 20 and older, were overweight. Of these, over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women were obese.
  • 65% of the world's population lives in countries where obesity and being overweight already kills more people than being underweight.
  • More than 40 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2010.
  • Being overweight and obese are the fifth leading risk for global deaths.
  • At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.
  • If we consider some of the major causes of death, the following percentages reflect the proportion of the burden attributed to being overweight and obese:
    • 44% of the diabetes burden
    • 23% of ischemic heart disease burden
    • Between 7% and 41% of certain cancer burden
  • Obesity is preventable.

Where are the Entrepreneurs? You are probably saying, “enough statistics already.” What has this possibly got to do with business and entrepreneurship? It has plenty to do with business and entrepreneurship. If you are an entrepreneur, you may provide the solutions we need to save our lives.

Thomas Edison once said, “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others. I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it.”  We often see entrepreneurs as the creators of businesses. Such a characterization is reality, a reality that I argue is inherently good for the world in terms of the creation of goods, services, jobs, and yes, wealth. However, we can also view entrepreneurs as the premier creators of solutions that are in fact extraordinarily creative. Why is this so? There are several reasons. The most important reason may be that it is typically entrepreneurs who are willing to take the risk associated with delivering a truly creative solution.

On the whole, entrepreneurs can be a rather independent lot that do not tend to migrate in herds. There is often an intellectual arrogance that allows them to think of how things might be done without being burdened with other’s reality of how things should be done. If fact, some see them as individuals often not burdened by reality at all. Yet, these same characteristics may be among the traits that are necessary for identifying truly creative, effective, and sustainable solutions that will ward off the life threatening dangers of under- and over-nutrition.

The Kirchner Group: The Kirchner Group has attention focused at the extremes of the nutrition continuum. Our agriculture and food group has well over 100 person years of experience working on agricultural technologies and food solutions with companies and investors in the agriculture and food industry (website).

At the opposite end of the nutritional spectrum, our health and life sciences group focuses on obesity and associated conditions. The group combines domain expertise, scientific credibility, and operational experience in assisting mid-sized companies that have solutions that can help address a range of obesity-related conditions and/or help curb the impending obesity pandemic (website).

If you are an entrepreneur with a solution or a need, we would like to hear from you. Contact us and follow us on LinkedIn.

Blogger's note:

I cannot take credit for the title of this blog. Slim Chance in a Fat World is the title of a book by Richard B. (Dick) Stuart and Barbara Davis published in 1976. About the time the book was published, Dick, Todd Risley, and I were at dinner in New York and Dick mentioned the title. It has always been one that I wanted to use in some way. So Dick, this blog is for you.

Patrick McNees
Managing Partner
Health and Life Science
Kirchner Private Capital Group

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