Are Overweight People Destroying the Earth?

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It is widely-known that being overweight or obese can result in serious health issues such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and stroke, just to list a few. But is being overweight bad for the environment? According to recent study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers suggest that overweight people are contributing disproportionately to climate change, and if you want to reduce your carbon footprint, slimming down is a step in the right direction.

The researchers compared lean populations, such as the Vietnamese, to populations where approximately 40% of people are overweight or obese, such as in the United States, and found that the leaner population consumes on average 20% less food and produces fewer greenhouse gases than the heavier population. A heavier population requires more food and food energy to sustain itself. Slimmer populations also tend to eat less meat, and eating less meat reduces your impact on the environment since meat production accounts for 20% of global emissions. Even if you only cut meat out of your diet and replace it with a healthy substitute for two or three days each week, you’ll be contributing to your overall health as well as reducing your personal impact on the environment.

Food production and consumption is one reason why overweight populations are associated with climate change. We know that there is not an endless supply of food on our planet, and food shortages and food riots have occurred in places like Mexico, Yemen, Haiti and Sudan. While certain populations around the world are struggling with food production and not having enough to eat, heavy populations in rich nations such as the United States require approximately 19% more food energy than leaner populations. Some researchers question if the imbalance will continue to grow, allowing wealthy populations become heavier and unhealthier while less fortunate populations are subjected to food crises.

Another factor contributing to climate change is air pollution. Wealthy countries with overweight populations are responsible for up to 1 billion extra tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. The researchers state that since it requires more energy to move heavy bodies than lean bodies, heavier populations are contributing to more air pollution than leaner populations. When people are overweight or obese, they are less likely to walk or ride a bike to their destination and more likely to drive a car, resulting in more fuel needed to move a heavier body. Heavier bodies also require more fuel when using other kinds of transportation such as airplanes, and the more weight an engine has to move, the less fuel efficient the mode of transportation becomes.  All of the extra fuel required to move around a heavy population leads to an increased and more urgent need for drilling for oil.

Sustaining heavier populations

Our planet doesn’t have unlimited resources and people should be concerned about the increasing amount of energy required to sustain populations that are growing heavier. The researchers who conducted the study said in a statement that, “We need to be doing a lot more to reverse the global trend towards fatness, and recognize it as a key factor in the battle to reduce emissions and slow climate change.”

It may seem like one person can’t possibly make a dent in an issue as big as climate change, but there are steps each one of us can take to ensure we’re doing our best to be good to ourselves and the earth. As mentioned earlier, you can start by cutting meat from your diet one or two days a week. Meat production is a huge contributor to climate change, and replacing your steak or hamburger with a healthy alternative like an eggplant or mushroom burger will benefit you and our environment.

In addition to making environmentally friendly diet choices, getting more exercise is another way to slim down and reduce your carbon footprint. If you can walk or bike to work, do so. Start taking morning or evening walks with your spouse, your children or your pets. You can swim or attend dance classes with a group of friends; exercise doesn’t have to be boring or torturous. When you’re healthier the planet is healthier, so start making smart choices today.