Are Fat People Destroying the Planet?
Just about everyone knows that carrying around too much extra weight can contribute to a whole variety of health problems (heart disease, diabetes, etc.). But does being too fat contribute to, say, global warming as well?
Yes, according to Dr. Ian Roberts, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In a recent study, Roberts and his colleagues crunched the numbers: The earth’s 7 billion people collectively weigh in at an estimated 287 million tons; according to Roberts, that’s about 17 million tons too many. And not just for our own sake (really, Roberts doesn’t appear to be so interested in that), but for the planet’s.
“People always start thinking we’re damaging the earth’s ecosystem from our polluting activities, so [they ask] how many people can the earth support? And then immediately they start thinking about the number of people on the planet and how many mouths to feed,” Roberts tells NPR. “But the point of this paper is actually that food doesn’t feed mouths; it feeds flesh. So the really important question is not how many mouths there are but how much flesh there is.”
Not only does Roberts complain that all this talk about “how many mouths to feed” unfairly leads people to target, say, “poor women in Africa having too many babies,” he thinks all the hype about obesity is misleading, too. Yes, obesity rates are too high, but as he points out, much of the world is getting fatter, even if they’re not technically obese.
“Bigger people need more energy to move them; airplanes need more energy to get off the ground,” Roberts tells NPR. “It takes more shares of the earth’s resources to support all that weight.” (More food needs to be grown and transported; more gasoline consumed, etc.)
So what country is the worst culprit in hogging all those resources? No surprise given all the recent headlines about obesity: it’s the U.S, where the average adult is a full 50 pounds heavier that the global average. Overall, according to Roberts’s calculations, North America has just 6 percent of the world population but accounts for a third of the world’s obesity.
Or, as Roberts put it to the London Telegraph: “If every country becomes as fat as the U.S., then in mass terms it’s like having an extra billion people on the earth or feeding another half a billion.”
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