Friday, May 30, 2008

Obesity and Global Warming— We're not making this up

The growing awareness of global warming has led to increasing demands for each and every one of us to reduce our "carbon / environmental footprint" by taking all possible measures to minimize our impact on the fragile atmosphere on which we all rely to survive. That’s a mouthful.

Well, here’s some food for thought. Compared with the normal weight population, the obese population consumes 18 percent more food energy. More transportation fuel is required to transport the increased mass of the obese population. Again, we’re not making this up.

  • Each extra pound of body weight in all of today’s vehicles results in the need for more than 39 million gallons of extra gasoline each year in the U.S. (University of Illinois and Virginia Commonwealth University)
  • The extra poundage packed on by the average American in the last decade required airplanes to use an extra 350 million gallons of fuel, according to analysis by researchers at Cornell University. (Dannenberg et al, American Journal of Preventive Medicine)

Today there are about 400 million obese individuals in the world, which is nearly 40 percent of the entire global population. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2015 there will be 700 million obese and 2 billion overweight individuals in the world. That’s just seven years from now.

And, in New Scientist Magazine, Ian Roberts points out that the overconsumption of food and sedentarism means more carbon emissions in every aspect of life because of increased waste production and energy/fuel consumption.

For some good news, public health officials point out that people can cut calories and carbon dioxide at the same time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering public promotion of the "co-benefits" of fighting global warming and obesity-related illnesses through everyday activities, like walking to school or work, said Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health. "A simple intervention like walking to school is a climate change intervention, an obesity intervention, a diabetes intervention, a safety intervention."

But it's not just getting out of the car that's needed, said Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. A diet shift away from heavy meat consumption would also go far, he said, because it takes much more energy and land to produce meat than fruits, vegetables and grains. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the meat sector of the global economy is responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

"The real bang for the buck in reducing greenhouse gas emissions was from the avoided health expenses of a sedentary lifestyle," said Paul Higgins, with the American Meteorological Society. He calculates the average person walking half an hour a day would lose about 13 pounds a year—and if everyone did that instead of driving the same distance, the nation would burn a total of 10.5 trillion calories, which would cut the carbon dioxide emissions by about the same amount New Mexico produces.

Sounds like movement in the right direction.

1 comment:

Henri said...

What really scares me is the number of obese children! I'm a teacher and it is really painful to see what some of the children are bringing to school in their lunches. And quite often when the parents pick their children up after school, they too are obese. It's a cycle that will continue with each generation if we aren't careful!