16. 10. 2007

Obesity and Climate Change

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What an intriguing contribution from Alan Johnson linking obesity and climate change, when he suggested that obesity could be at least as serious a problem by 2050 as we think climate change will be.

Perhaps the Secretary of State for Health is softening us all up for a new Obesity Bill, with ambitious (even statutory?) targets to reduce levels of fat by at least 60% by 2050, with compulsory lipo-suction for failing to meet key weight reduction milestones by 2015, and more intrusive surgical interventions thereafter.

If that’s a little bit too ambitious at the moment, then the Department for Health could immediately commission a serious study into the real (and extremely significant) links between obesity and climate change, based on the rather obvious perception that those factors which have seduced us over the years into our ludicrously CO2 – intensive lifestyles are the self-same factors that promote a dangerously “obesogenic” environment. In that respect, as many people have pointed out, it's no coincidence that the United States is both the most obese nation on earth and the most CO2 – obese, as in per capita omissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

So, at the risk of making myself deeply unpopular on “fattist grounds”, the reality is that fatter people (relatively speaking) not only do more damage to themselves than thinner people (relatively speaking), but they also do more damage to the physical environment and to the climate – both through the nature of their diets and through their more sedentary lifestyles. With a growing reluctance to walk or cycle, the more obese people will become.

What people constantly forget in all this, is that the food supply chain, in its entirety, contributes at least 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and probably more, depending on how you define it. Relatively speaking, obese people consume up to 40% more in terms of calories, as Ian Roberts (Professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) pointed out in an excellent article in the New Scientist back in June this year:

“An obese population leaves a significantly heavier footprint than a thin one. Fats and refined sugars, which tend to dominate the diets of obese people, are particularly carbon intensive”.

Does this provide Alan Johnson with enough of a steer as to the synergies between himself, Hilary Benn (Defra) and Ruth Kelly (the Department for Transport)? Despite my earlier blog-prompt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer might just get things sorted by a massive injection of funds to promote cycling and walking, I’m sorry to report that The Comprehensive Spending Review just didn’t take the hint.

With its mind on higher things, it is probably a bit demeaning for Treasury to stoop to the banality of exalting cycling and walking. But if it turned out to be the most cost-effective way of reducing both the pounds and reducing the CO2, that might just swing it.

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17. 10. 2007
Ironspider

I work in an office which has several obese members of staff - one of whom, at least, could be called morbidly obese. She takes the lift between our two floors and admits to driving everywhere. Like me she did start using a bus to get to work, but the walk from the bus station to the office (about ten minutes at a slow walk) proved to be too demanding, so she's gone back to driving.

I'm not the slimmest of people, but I do try to walk as much as possible and always take the stairs. When I was younger and worked in London I preferred using my feet to either the tube or the bus and thought nothing of walking from Fenchurch Street station to Holborn. I initially choose to walk as I was saving for a trip to Australia, but thereafter it became a habit.

I don't think it would be easy to convince people to walk or cycle unless it's something they've a mind to do anyway. Lack of exercise and over-eating would seem to be a factor of modern life. I'm not as physically active as I once was, but that's more through changed circumstances than a specific choice. It might be easier (possibly) to restrict people's access to unhealthy foods than expect the population to suddenly develope a passion for cycling. And, even if it is only walking between the home or office and a bus stop, encouraging the use of public transport ups the exercise and lowers the CO2.

05. 11. 2007
Arik

And further reports of sustainable development as central organising principle...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2007/nov/01/health.communities

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