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The Strategic Fat Stockpile

· 6 min read

The Cold War left the United States with various reserves and stockpiles in the event of war. These include the Strategic National Stockpile for medical equipment, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and various depots for munitions, military equipment, aircraft, infrastructure, lithium and rare earth minerals. Hopefully USA gov is competent enough to also keep non-public depots for critical infrastructure components like nuclear fuel, transformers, copper, etc.

I want to bring attention to an additional, unofficial stockpile representing perhaps the USA's most significant national security advantage: the Strategic Fat Stockpile. The USA has a 112 day fat stockpile, more than 5x Russia’s paltry 21 day stockpile.

Fat stockpile by country.
Population Average Stockpile, in days, by Country


I estimate the Fat or Food Stockpile as the average number of days that a population can survive without external food supplies. In other words, how long the population can fast before getting to a healthy weight. Fasting is known to be an effective way to power the human body using the body's fat and muscle reserves and a plentiful water supply. 1-5 day fasts are common practice, and 30-300 day fasts have proven feasible and even healthy for the very obese.1

I estimated the figures using the assumptions in the below table. Briefly, I took each country's population weight distribution for men and women, and allowed them to consume their excess body weight until they reach a minimum body weight. The minimum body weight here is just a little below the healthy body weight from before the 1970s. I assumed that the extra weight is all fat, and that it is fully converted to energy at 9000 calories / kg and at a rate of 2000 cal/day to match caloric needs, which may be a bit oversimplified and optimistic.

Overall, the relative values between countries are more useful than the absolute values. No consideration was made concerning the different genetic or racial make up of different countries. Asian and Indian populations tend to be smaller and lighter than European populations, which are smaller and lighter than sub-saharan populations.

Minimum weightlb120150
Minimum weightkg54.468.0
Energy of fatMJ/kg37.7=
Energy of fatkCal/kg9011=
Daily Energy Requirementcal17002000
USA Adult Population259M129M130M


The first chart shows the stockpile, in days, for each country considered. The second chart shows the USA on-body stockpile for each weight percentile, distinguishing between men and women.

Among great powers, the US is the leading fat stockpiler. I also noticed that women in the US and globally have a larger fat stockpile (measured in days) than men.

United States Fat stockpile
Population Average Stockpile, by body weight percentile and gender.

Benefits of the Strategic Fat Stockpile

The world averaged food stockpile is estimated at 2-3 months. But normal food stockpiles are no match for the Strategic Fat Reserve. Normal food goes bad and can be easily contaminated or destroyed. By maintaining a large, overweight population, a superpower can provide a portable, protected food source to withstand major disasters. I argue that fat is better than muscle and provides a resilient energy source with the add-on benefits of always-on and well placed radiation protection, toxicity dilution, easy weight gain, and high energy density.

On-Body Food Source

The primary goal of the extra body mass is to provide an energy source that is not contaminated and is highly portable and reliable. On-body energy is the most readily available energy source for humans. During a nuclear fallout, the biggest danger is the short term contamination of food, usually in the 30 day to 90 day timeframe. Fasting in the immediate aftermath of fallout will allow overweight individuals to lower their radiation dose. In terms of energy density, fat is the clear winner with 9 calories per gram, compared 4 calories per gram. If the human body weight is constrained, perhaps by skeletal structure or organ throughputs, then fat provides 2.25x more energy.

Radiation Shielding

Beyond energy, the on-body energy source can provide radiation shielding from the harmful effects of radiation exposure. We maximize protection by placing the shielding material closer to the object we are trying to protect; namely reproductive and core organs. Both muscle and fat are basically water and will provide similar protection per unit mass. However, muscle tends to build up between joints and bones, while fat is more concentrated around the core. This means that fat is in a better location to maximize protection. A 10 cm thick slab of fat or water would attenuate 1 MeV gamma rays by a factor of 2x. Also, obese people are more likely to be indoors which could reduce their exposure to radiation at the time of initial nuclear blasts.

Toxicity Dilution

In general, greater weight requires a greater lethal dose but not always 2. This is toxicity dilution, and it's not clear that fat is better than muscle. It’s a bit more complicated than just greater weight corresponding to greater resistance to toxins, because while muscle and fat mass can vary quite a bit between patients, the core and skeletal mass vary much less. Indeed, medication dosing calculations can be made via several metrics, including total body weight (TBW), body surface area (BSA), ideal body weight (IBW), and lean body weight (LBW). In a nuclear fallout, the dose and exposure will be roughly the same across people, and greater weight might help dilute that exposure.

Ease of Stockpiling

Another factor to consider is how muscle and fat are acquired. While muscle requires discipline and continuous hard work, fat can be easily gained through gluttony and doing nothing. Fat is a more easily obtained and longer lasting.

Thermal Insulation

Extra body mass can also provide zero-power insulation in the unlikely event of dramatic climate change. Again, fat is superior to muscle as it is more insulating and better positioned on the body.

Redundant Infrastructure

There are also secondary resilience benefits of a highly overweight population having to do with an overbuilt pre-war infrastructure that doubles as excess capacity in wartime. Pre-war agricultural and medical infrastructure has to match the overweight population. In war time and under pressure, this represents a massive excess infrastructure capacity to produce food and health care.

End note

These observations are a bit of joke for me to write up and I hope not to offend larger folks. But they are true and interesting and could well factor into strategic planning considerations. At the least I've identified some (the only?) upside to the obesity epidemic.

  1. Zuckerman, A Review of the Toxicologic Implications of Obesity, 2015
  2. Stewart, Features of a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days' duration, 1973w