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Is obesity really a factor in global warming?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
I've been looking up research for a piece about obesity as an eco-issue and was curious what other people thought. Last April a slew of pieces went viral when that study came out from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which noted, "Because food production is a major contributor to global warming, a lean population, such as that seen in Vietnam, will consume almost 20 percent less food and produce fewer greenhouse gases than a population in which 40 percent of people are obese... Transport-related emissions will also be lower because it takes less energy to transport slim people. The researchers estimate that a lean population of 1 billion people would emit 1.0 GT (1,000 million tons) less carbon dioxide equivalents per year compared with a fat one." *Source

Throughout the last few years many people have wondered if fat is a global / eco-issue. Some have flat out said it is.

In a moment across the pond, Sir Jonathan Porritt, former Green Party politician and a chief green adviser for the gov, noted that "fat is a climate change issue" pointing out that, "Overweight people eat more protein-rich food such as beef or lamb, which is responsible for producing greenhouse gases because of the toxic methane livestock emits... obese people are more likely to use cars rather than walk or cycle, therefore producing more carbon emissions." To which Dr Tim Lobstein, director of policy at International Association for the Study of Obesity, agreed with but also noted, "You cannot blame fat people for global warming - that is just victimisation - but there is a problem with food policy that has encouraged over-consumption and is spoiling the environment." Another opinion: The NYT - Is Being Overweight a Climate Problem?

Anyhow, much of the research + opinions on this topic rehash the same stuff over and over - some saying yeah obesity is an actual environment issue and others saying don't blame people for global warming issues just because they're overweight. 

I'm wondering what other people think. For the last few years I've written about the health implications of obesity for various clients, but I've never really looked at the eco-slant. When you consider meat, transport, and food policy it does seem like obesity could be an environmental issue and health issue.

What do you think? AND more importantly, does it even matter? People go green or live greener because they've made a choice to and it's the same with weight loss. I'm not sure that one issue will actually affect the other in the grand scheme of things. Like if everyone says, "lose weight to help the planet" I don't see how it would help. So far a ton of health organizations, gov initiatives, and media outlets have said people should lose weight for health yet people weigh more now then ever so shading the issue green, when health risks don't even change people seems useless.

So, should we consider obesity an important eco-issue or not? 
post #2 of 7
To me obesity is a health issue - forget the eco side of it to start with at least. İf you can improve the health of the general population that is what is important - that there is an eco side benefit is fine.

Not an untypical person:
The past few days my wife's 2nd cousin and husband were here - they are in their mid to late 20's. The girl has never been thin but wasn't bad. Now that she is married she is turning into a blimp and blaming medical conditions. They would like to have a child so the weight problem is front and center. Guys do the same thing for whatever reason so no one needs to jump up about me being critical of her.

Watching her eat İ saw the medical condition - it is an elbow problem. Constantly in motion stuffing food into her face. She gets around just fine today - wait until she has carried all the blubber for 10 years and it really will start to be bad. 

She found some doctor to go along with her 'medical condition' so she is happy. Not all doctors have that good of common sense. Especially among the lesser trained groups. By the time you get to homeopathy (believe that is the spelling) you can find all sorts of freaky ideas passed off as medicine. 
Edited by Russ - 1/30/10 at 11:12pm
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
I read a post recently and they guy who wrote it noted that there tends to be two trains of thought when people think of obesity....

You see obesity as largely a lifestyle choice or as a correctable behavior problem — or some combination thereof. Is obesity just about indulgence and therefore akin to smoking, thus something that should be derided, discouraged, even taxed? Or is obesity a medical condition more like other diseases and thus one we need to solve with drugs and other compassionate interventions?

I see it as a lifestyle choice like smoking. Not 100% across the board (but nothing is ever 100%). I think it's insane to not hold people accountable - like the doctor you mention above. Especially when people are so quick to judge other habits people have like smoking. Recently President Barack Obama signed the law to allow the FDA to regulate the tobacco industry. Its authority includes the ability to ban certain products like cloves and fruit flavored cigs. While I'm not a smoking advocate it astounds me that so much is being focused on banning cloves when no one is banning or taxing soda, fast food and such. Obesity related deaths are quickly catching up to smoking deaths in the U.S. At schools, at the stores, everywhere I go, I don’t see kids smoking cloves but I do see plenty of overweight little kids. 1 in 3 small children are overweight or obese. 

It really hit me when I saw Supersize Me because the guy in that movie noted something like everyone will tell a smoker to their face to stop smoking but no one will tell someone who is overweight to quit eating or to quit feeding their kids fast food.

People have very different ways of dealing with bad habits in this country. Fat, vs. smoking, vs. drinking, and so on are all treated differently and it seems the approach taken with overeating is to call it a medical condition or treat it with kid gloves. The main reason this bothers me is because of kids health. When I was a kid you just did not see as many overweight kids, and now it seems like half (maybe more) of my son's peers are so overweight they can't even run around and play successfully at the park and it makes me feel so bad for those kids.

In that respect there are green aspects that pop up, like a lack of safe green spaces to play in, but I think I'm still more on the side of obesity being a health issue first and an eco-issue secondary.
post #4 of 7
This is a good question! Obviously not all overweight people are the same, some may be very conscious about decisions. I guess when I look at obesity in terms of environment, I see a person who is somewhat selfish and not thinking about their own impact, but that could easily be said about any person on this planet.

I watch TopGear reruns a lot, it is the British car show. They obviously make fun of environmentalists all the time. In one episode, someone from their highway dept. made a comment about keeping the weight down in your car (I forget exactly what he was proposing) but the hosts of TopGear actually calculated how much gas would be saved if he shaved his ugly moustache, and if everyone in the country did the same. It was actually a noticeable amount if everyone removed the 2 grams of facial hair. I bring this up because it follows that same argument about transportation and it is humorous. It just shows you that pretty much anything can be seen as environmentally damaging.

From a personal view point, I think a reduction in obesity would make a positive impact in terms of food consumption and diet choice.  I struggle to afford to feed myself and my fiance, we both have normal BMIs but he is 'skin and bones' thin and eats a lot! From that same perspective, I don't buy as much organic or natural food as I should because I have to stay on a budget and need to buy a lot of food. This translates to the type of cheap, filling food and empty calories that people with obesity most likely consume, which is significantly worse in terms of environmental impact. People who eat less bulk, might understand the benefits of a healthier and more eco-friendly diet because they would be able to save money in terms of quantity. But as my personal example shows, it applies to any bulk-eater, not just those overweight.
post #5 of 7
The bigger and more immediate problem is the cost to the health system. The obese have and will place more demands on the system - demands which all will end up sharing the cost of.

Like your boyfriend, years back İ could eat very large amounts - any more İ eat far less and have to workout more to stay trim - İ forget my BMİ but at 80 kg and 188 cm it is good.

For the moustache - İ suppose that when you multiply a gram of anything times a billion people the pile starts to get rather large!  
post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
That moustache fact is crazy, but like Russ said, I guess it makes sense - once you add up a billion of anything it gets extreme.

Right now we already are paying more for obesity related health care. A new study that came out this summer from Research Triangle Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the health cost of obesity in the United States is as high as $147 billion annually.

According to the study, all annual medical costs related to obesity increased from 6.5 percent in 1998 to 9.1 percent in 2006. The figure of $147 billion includes payment by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers, and includes prescription drug spending. If you break it down, the study notes that people who are obese spent about $1,429 each per year on medical care, which is a whopping 42% more than people of average weight spent.

Because of these large costs to the economy the CDC did issue a new set of evidence-based recommendations meant help communities tackle the problem of obesity through programs and policies that promote healthy eating and physical activity.

The report, “Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States,” along with a companion implementation guide, appears in CDC’s MMWR Recommendations and Reports. A companion implementation guide is also available on the CDC Web site.

I remember when I could eat any old thing and not gain extra. After having my son, I have to actually watch what I eat and exercise.  I hate formal exercise but like hiking and skateboarding and biking. But plain working out makes me bored. I can't just put in a tape and work out because I start yawning.
post #7 of 7
Yes - it's more of an effect of over-eating than necessarily being 'fat'.  And even moreso it's an effect of eating a meat-heavy diet.  Both are issues which Americans in general tend to be more guilty of than most other cultures.

The key word is that obesity and excessive consumption are contributors to global warming.  The problem is when a study or article comes out discussing how some issue like this contributes to global warming, people freak out and say "oh now you're blaming fat people for global warming?!?!".  No, the valid point is that people who consume more than necessary - particularly in terms of meat - contribute more to global warming than people who eat the appropriate amount and have a less meat-heavy diet.
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