World Hunger - A Unique New Solution

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in February 2001.

Modern medicine now seems to have the capability of accomplishing a solution to world hunger! Within a decade or two, hunger could become an unheard of problem!

There are approximately six billion human beings presently on the earth. In order to survive and prosper, every one of these humans needs to consume a substantial amount of meat, grain, and fruit every day. In many parts of the world, this complete diet is not available, or maybe even possible, and malnutrition and starvation regularly result.

A short blurb that occasionally runs on PBS television now says that, even if we developed the greatest agricultural equipment and resources, it would be necessary to completely plant the land area of THREE planets like the Earth, just to feed all existing people with a diet that had a nutrition level of American diets. Such a situation is obviously impossible!

Think about what the actual function of consuming all that food is. Does the human body actually use or even need the bulk of that food? No! The great bulk of the amount of food consumed is soon excreted or otherwise eliminated. Only a rather small proportion of the actual food consumed is actually retained and used by the body.

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An average American eats a total of around three pounds of food each day. Each pound has around 9,000 Btus of chemical energy in it, so this is around 27,000 Btus of energy in the food ingested. There is generally some more energy in sweeteners of liquids drunk during the day, so we may have a total of around 30,000 Btus of actual chemical energy in the food and liquid we ingest each day. If we convert this to Kilocalories, it is around 7,500 Kcal/day intake. We know that the actual nutritional energy we get from food each day is on the order of 2,200 Kcal/day. This suggests that we actually only use around 30% of the energy in the food we ingest, with the rest passing right through us.

The food consumed contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and minerals.. These types of components are then broken down to forms that may be readily absorbed into the body and then circulated to and used by the various cells of the body. The body is thus provided with nutrients required for its metabolism -- the sum total of physical and chemical processes by which body materials are produced and maintained. Nutrients thus supply the molecules from which energy, as calories, may be derived for cellular synthesis, cell and organ growth, and tissue replacement. In addition, nutrients provide the components that are needed in these processes but that the host body is unable to synthesize, such as vitamins and minerals, electrolytes, and certain essential amino acids and fatty acids.

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Scientists now know all the enzymes, acids and other reagents that the body uses to accomplish these chemical activities. It also knows all of the necessary end products that are made available to the body.

This suggests that modern medical science is already at a state to be able to create all of these end product chemicals in a laboratory, and to be able to then supply them directly to the bloodstream (intravenously), thereby making normal food supplies, eating, chewing and digestion unnecessary, or at least, somewhat optional.

The premise here is to refine these two technologies and combine them.

Imagine a cigarette-pack-sized container strapped to the upper arm or thigh or abdomen of a third-world person, with something similar to TPN inside it, and with a "patch-style" skin-penetrating-interface on one large surface of it. For a period of many days or weeks, the person could then receive ALL of the necessary vitamins and nutrients for his/her body to grow and be vibrant! Actual sources of food might become somewhat optional for such a person!

Assuming that laboratory testing confirmed the efficacy of this extremely efficient method of supplying nutrients for the body, large scale commercial production of such final nutrients could be accomplished. Instead of ingesting half a kilogram (more than a pound) of normal food sources during a day, only a few grams (a fraction of an ounce) of a concentrated nutrient solution could be automatically metered into the bloodstream of a person, giving the body an even better balanced nutrition than is usually accomplished in a normal third-world person's diet. The number of daily calories could be pre-selected, from several possible versions of this pack. A large man might be given one that provided 2,000 calories per day, while a small child might be given a version that provided far less, the correct amount for that age child. Possibly, a pregnant or lactating woman might be given a version that included additional specialized nutrients.

Assume for a moment that it would turn out that 3.5 grams (1/8) ounce of this concentrated nutrient solution was actually all that was necessary for all of a human body's needs. It would then be possible for a person to have a small reservoir of, say 100 grams (4 ounces) capacity, strapped to the arm or leg, as a glorified "patch". With a computer-designed automatic metering system, this would provide full nutrition for that person for a full month period. A person COULD then either eat normally OR rely on this nutrition system or any combination. For people who are in societies that are on the verge of constant starvation, as in the desert, such a device could make the difference between living and dying.

The person would still need to drink substantial amounts of water during each day. That necessary supply of water is normally supplied by drinking and also by water which is part of nearly all foods that are eaten.

It would no longer be necessary to exclusively rely on successful farming crops to feed a population in any country! It would therefore become less necessary to third-world countries to destroy rain forest areas to clear necessary new croplands for growing populations. Droughts, damaging storms and other crop-failure causes would then NOT necessarily cause famines!

Agricultural Impact

If this concept can actually be developed and deployed, the extreme reliance on super-productive agri-biz techniques and chemicals might be greatly reduced. This might greatly reduce water pollution due to the many chemicals used in modern agriculture. It might reduce that phenomenal consumption of fresh water supplies for irrigation. It might also reduce the perceived need for destroying important rain forests just to provide (temporary) cropland. The seemingly cruel aspects of very high levels of beef, chicken and pork production, along with their various potentials for bacterial contamination and viruses, might also be reduced. In all, the environment of the Earth might experience less overall damage than we are currently causing with our partial-food-provision efforts. Best of all, far more people would be healthy, and possibly even productive and happy!

Actual Usage

Imagine a non-reusable cigarette-pack-sized sealed plastic container filled with the special nutrient mixture. A (velcro?) strap would be attached to the container, such that it could easily be strapped to the inner thigh or the upper arm. One large side of the container is like the "nicotine patch" products, gradually allowing a metered amount of nutrients to pass through an interface membrane and into and through the skin, to get into the bloodstream.

Such a device could be installed on a villager in just seconds, without any need for medical equipment or a sterile operating room. A Nurse could install several of these every minute, to be able to process very large numbers of people. Without any operation or actual skin punctures, there should be minimal danger of infection or contamination.

The container, an existing TPN vector, the Velcro strap, and the skin interface are all available today, and they are fairly inexpensive. Assuming that an improved nutrient mixture could be made in large quantities in a sterile laboratory, the whole assembly might cost well under a dollar in large quantities.

The implications of this are huge! If a dollar device would not only keep a person alive for a month, but actually strengthen and grow, that's only a $12 commitment per year to enable a starving person to become healthy and strong! NO conventional farming methods could possibly be so efficient as to compete with that price tag! Even if the final cost was somewhat higher, the nutrition would be provided and agri-biz would need to do less polluting of the earth's environment.

This combination would allow very rapid and broad application to very large numbers of individuals. Where traditional approaches are looking to irrigating large areas of deserts to create enough cropland to feed thousands and perhaps millions of people, this approach might allow far less damage to the environment from such activities. Where enormous areas of rain forest are now being destroyed each day to allow sufficient cropland, this approach would allow those important rain forests to remain. But most important of all, the individuals involved would have a consistent source of nutrients, on which to live and prosper. With adequate nutrition, their brains would be more active and their muscles more developed, giving each of them an opportunity to become productive members of society, rather than just people on the verge of starvation, waiting to die.

There is one likely downside to this endeavor. One of the functions of excretion is to remove substantial amounts of (normal) intestinal bacteria from the body. If food ingestion is effectively eliminated, excretion would certainly become much more seldom or even rare. It is unknown if this would cause unhealthy bacteria build-up in the body. On the other hand, with virtually no food being ingested, the digestive tract would have little raw material for bacteria to feed upon, which might reduce or even eliminate the presence of digestive bacteria in the body. Research would be necessary in these areas.

Assuming that preliminary research confirmed the efficacy of this system, research would then turn to developing a liquid vector for carrying the mix of nutrients and a delivery system to inject metered amounts of this nutrient liquid directly into the bloodstream. Various complications could exist, but all should be able to be overcome with present technology. Several reasonable types of delivery systems come to mind as practical starting points for research in this area. The "patch" approach mentioned here seems to be a logical choice to try.

Modern medical technology seems to have all the tools already available to accomplish this project. Obviously, extensive testing would be necessary before any large-scale application should be used, but, realistically, this approach could materially reduce world hunger within a decade!

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This presentation was first put on the Internet in February 2001.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago