New research suggests that population growth is driving numerous global health crises, yet it’s rarely factored into the equation.
The world’s population currently stands at 7.15 billion people and has the potential to double in the next 50 years. In the U.S., there’s one birth every eight seconds and one death every 12 seconds.
With an ever-growing population on a finite earth, the issue of overpopulation should be a major concern when evaluating how we’ll be able to feed and care for the masses.
But it’s not.
Camilo Mora, an assistant professor of geography in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, reviewed nearly 200 research articles and found that population is being “downplayed and trivialized,” despite its biological impact and its fundamental role in human welfare.
In the U.S. alone, unintended pregnancies are responsible for $11 billion in public spending each year.
Mora’s research, published in the journal Ecology and Society, suggests that major health crises won’t be fixed if researchers continue to ignore burgeoning birth rates and declining death rates.
“In a planet with limited resources and a sensitive climate, with most of its natural resources being overexploited and its economic systems overstressed, meeting the additional demands of a growing human population without destroying the Earth and our social systems will be one of the greatest tests to humanity in the years to come,” Mora concluded.
Doomsday scenarios aside, Mora said diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria will continue to spread, mainly through unsafe behaviors linked to overpopulation: high-risk sexual practices, a lack of access to contraception, and an increase in the number of sex workers.
In Africa, extreme poverty has forced many women into the “sex for fish” trade, in which they have sex with local fishermen in exchange for a portion of the daily catch. Because these woman have inadequate access to contraceptives and safer-sex tools, this practice increases the spread of HIV and makes unwanted pregnancies more likely.
“People are forced to do these things. There’s no way to dig people out of this kind of poverty,” Mora told Healthline. “When you get a perspective, the picture isn’t pretty.”
In his paper, Mora pointed to the case of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has 22 grandchildren. If each of Romney’s children were to follow in his footsteps, he and his wife, Ann, would be responsible for creating 124 people in just four generations.
While the Romneys have the financial capacity to provide food, education, and healthcare for a flock as large as theirs, they are in the minority.
The average ideal family used to be 2.1 children: one to replace each parent and 0.1 to account for child mortality rates. Now that child mortality rates have dropped and medical advances have helped more people living longer, Mora suggests that the average family have only one child.
“Everything has to go down to women and how many children they have,” he says. “In some countries, that isn’t an option.”
With scientific literacy in the U.S. and other developed countries falling below 17 percent, few people consider the ramifications of their family size and the impact it has on earth’s future.
While one-child mandates may be perceived as fodder for science fiction—or as the practice of oppressive governments—Mora says changing social norms are the better way to go.
“People need to look at the total impact,” he says. “The more people you have, the fewer services you have to go around.”