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Obesity as a cause of global warming?

May 16, 2008 |  4:48 pm

obesity is the cause of global warming?

That pesky obesity thing. First it forced Disneyland to increase the sizes of its theme-park costumes, and hospitals to buy larger hoists and beds. Now, in a letter published Friday in the medical journal Lancet, two scientists write that obese people are disproportionately responsible for high food prices and greenhouse gas emissions because they consume 18% more food energy due to their greater body mass -- and require increased quantities of fuel to transport themselves and the food they eat. "Promotion of a normal distribution of BMI would reduce the global demand for, and thus the price of, food," write the authors, Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts of the evocatively named London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

We don't imagine Edwards and Roberts wrote their letter to be mean -- their point seems to be that it would be good for various reasons if urban policies worked to promote biking and walking -- and we haven't yet heard of mobs with torches roving the streets in search of those with BMIs of 30 or above. Nonetheless, Yale University has been quick with a news release urging "caution on obesity and climate change link."

Declares Kelly Brownell, director of the university's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, "Saying that obese people are contributing to climate change is highly stigmatizing and assigns blame to the individuals who are obese rather than the conditions driving the obesity in the first place." Things, he says, like junk food marketing aimed at children, the demise of P.E. programs, behemoth portions offered up in restaurants, more.

I guess, too, we could always point a finger at those lean people we all know who have such high, wasteful metabolisms they can eat what they want, lift not a finger yet stay skinny as a rake. And how can I defend a friend of mine who consumes thousands of calories so he can get on his bicycle and go for 100-mile rides -- only to end up at the very same place he started from, only hungrier? (And by the way, he drives a car -- five miles -- to work.)

--Rosie Mestel

photo credit: Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times

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Comments (147)

I don't think necessarily that if someone "is 20% overweight that means 20% more food has to be transported to the 30 to 40% of the population that is obese."

Unless you eat strictly local foods, all those organic vegetables and whatnot you eat year round will contribute a lot more to global warming, because of the large distances it needs to be transported.

I don't think many people end up obese by eating fruits & vegetables year round, probably more processed foods, which also contribute to global warming, but are probably closer than those peaches from Chile you bought in February.

20% overweight != 20% more food. Every person has a basal metabolism, and as the poster mentioned, some thin people can consume thousands of calories a day, while some obese people consume under a thousand and maintain their weight.

Easy solution---subsidize free and low cost junk food, for fat people only; simply give the most obese people exactly what they want and let them die from a coronary-two birds, one stone: lower food prices and population control.

Are they building bigger coffins, too?

The key word in the article is "disproportion". We all are disproportionately responsible for contribution to global warming one way or another. There is nothing wrong to identify obesity as one disproportional factor. The crititcs simply come out too quick.

Thank God for $4.00 gas. Now no one can aford to eat.

CPAs are numbers experts. I used my CPA skill to conclusively determine the main cause of global warming. It is all the hot air coming from those saying people cause significant global warming, except as we increase in numbers. I cannot prove my calculations are correct, but no one else can prove their THEORIES either.

Hey Juan I, Do spelling errors create climate issues? No, I am not fat.

It does not cost 18% less gas to move an obese person around in a car, don't be stupid. An average small car is almost 3000 lbs. If you add a 300 lb person that adds 10% to the weight of the vehicle so you could claim that that person adds 10% to the fuel consumed but that claim would be wrong as well. That does not take into account friction within the drietrain, rolling resistance, or wind resistance.
If your 3000 lb car has 300 HP and you add a 300 lb person, that person as a whole will consume 10% of the horsepower, or 30 HP. If that person was 100 lb less that would free up 10 HP. That's only about 3%, not 18%. That still doesn't take into account the friction, rolling resistance or the wind resistance. That 3% is only fully accounted for during acceleration, not while cruising. I say the difference of 100 lbs in a small car will cost 1% more in gas, max.

Thanks ever so much for making my mere existence grounds to be hated and scolded.

This is really sad. Times must really be bad if researchers are looking for a group of people to blame for our economic and environmental problems. I wonder what these researchers hoped to accomplish with this report? Shame people into losing weight? Like obese people don't have enough discrimation issues to deal with without someone pointing the finger at them to say, "High food prices are your fault...and global warming is too!" It's unfortunate. Everyone, obese or not, is responsible for spending wisely, guarding our health, and conserving fuel so we can weather this economic crisis. Trying to lay false blame at the feet of the obese isn't helping the problem.

Well, this has got to be the most ludicrous study in the history of the planet. I could make this same case for any number of groups of people or scenarios. For example, if I wanted to go off on the deep end, I could blame public schools for global warming. How does this contribute? Well, I will tell you. First off, I need to tell you I was an elementary school teacher until January when I chose to homeschool my children. So now on to my ridiculous, but accurate example. Public schools waste more food than any organization than I have ever seen. In the elementary school where I worked, there were approximately 500 students. This is 500 breakfasts and 500 lunches a day. 70% of this food was thrown away by the students because they didn't like the food or for whatever reason. So this is equivalent to 700 meals a day just thrown in the trash. Now on to the 1,000 cartons of milk that are issued and about 50% of those thrown in the trash on a daily basis. The production of these milk cartons emitts all kinds of green house gases. Now we discussed the food let's move on to the eating utensils and trays. Many schools use styrofoam trays for breakfast and lunch. This is 1,000 trays thrown in the trash daily. These items have had food on them so they cannot be recycled and it created a lot of greenhouse gases to create those. Then there is the 1,000 plastic forks and 1,000 plastic spoons that are thrown in the trash everyday. Total this is about 185,000 cartons of milk; 185,000 styrofoam trays; 185,000 plastic spoons; 185,000 plastic forks; and 700,000 meals thrown into the trash in a typical 9 month school year for 1 elementary school. We won't even go into the thousands of reems of paper a year for worksheets that are thrown into the trash. Now how else does public schools contribute to global warming. Buses! Fuel consumption for a bus in ridiculous and in the area I live the school drives to a town 20 miles away to pick up students because the local school was closed. Also, the electric bill at the elementary school I worked ran about $5,000-$6000 a month. Mind you this is only operating 5 days a week. They averaged a natural gas bill of $4,000 a month and a water bill of around $2,000. If this is contributing to global warming, then I don't know what is.
Now with all that said, I do not feel public schools are a bad thing, but I just wanted to point out the absurdity of this argument and prove that a case like this could be made for anything. Did this just for fun, but I hope it makes you think.

Well, I just have to apologize for the typing errors I made in my comment. I should have read it again before posting it. I was caught up in the absurdity and was a little excited. So, I am sorry for any typing or spelling errors in my comment.

Wow. Interesting.
I'm a fatso. I have been all my life.
I look on with disgust as thin people I work with cram their gaping maws full of processed crap from the other side of the world while I run 3 miles a day, take the bus to work, and subsist on vegetables and extremely lean protein, most of which I buy as locally as possible, if, in fact the food does not come from my very own garden (which I work hard on year round). My sweet and genetically extremely thin husband cleans his own plate (and the half of mine that I always seem to leave behind) after serving himself double portions. He is just generally far less active than I am and in general is just far less committed to doing what he can to reduce his impact on the environment. I'm the one pushing to buy local, I'm the one who insists on bringing my own bags to the grocery, I'm the one who just spent my afternoon installing rain barrels at our new house, I'm the one who paces our acre lot for hours every saturday with a frickin' REEL mower so that I don't have to use gasoline, and I'm the one constantly searching for ways to conserve, reuse, reduce, etc. Sweet husband takes the recycling to the curb on Thursdays. That's his contribution. And I'M the one causing global warming 'cos I weigh more? Yeah, THAT makes a lot of sense...

Oh, and to Parker Shockley who seems to think that all fat people spend night and day cramming themselves with junkfood? Puh-leese. I would wager you that your diet is FAR worse than mine. I would wager that you eat far more fast food or other processed crap than I do. You could offer free junk food (sh*t, you could PAY me) and I wouldn't eat that crap. Seriously. When are people going to figure out that for the most part, fat people ARE NOT fat because they eat any more or less than other people??? Geez. It's a little thing called GENETICS, morons.

Many of us older heavy people started to get that way around 1980 when large amounts of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) were put in almost all our foodstuffs instead of natural sugars. Why is that? Corn is subsidized and therefore cheaper and increases the bottom line. I offset some of the 18% excess I consume by riding a bicycle and motorcycle. My car is a compact and is driven rarely. I grow some of my own food now, eat very little meat, and walk more. The 18% is slowly going away. The high fuel and food cost is incentive to live healthier so there will be incremental changes, not only with me, but with my also overweight peers - which is now over 40% of the rest of you.

Hmm. The obese are sitting at home, while the "fit" are driving themselves and their kids around town in 10 mpg SUVs to soccer games, dance lessons, etc. Seems like a wash to me, or maybe driving to soccer games, to dance recitals, to triathalons, to hiking trails, etc. is contributing to global warming.

Honestly, you can make a case for any activity being the cause (like the poster above who made the case for schools being a contributer to global warming). Let's apply some critical thinking here, and stop blaming.

Of course blaming obese people is silly, but there is a definite link between food production and greenhouse gas emissions. However, many of the widely-debated topics related to this link, such as the organic vs. local issue, seem to be just nibbling around the edges.

The fact is, over half of all commercially-grown food is not consumed by humans! It is consumed by animals intended for later human consumption, almost always in energy-inefficient, polluting factory farms. (This usually implies higher transportation costs as well.) Meanwhile, the average American eats 8 times as much meat as the average human being, and people in some of the world's poorer nations are rioting about high food prices because they can't even afford to sustain the meager, mostly-vegetarian diet their parents had.

I know everyone isn't going to suddenly become vegetarian, start biking to work, or do extensive research about how to reduce their carbon footprint. But could we just start eating the way the rest of the world eats, driving the sorts of vehicles the rest of the world drives (or taking public transportation when feasible), and spending a little more time thinking about what we can do to save our earth for our children?

This is for Esteban:

The average small car is a LOT less than 3000 lbs, and certainly doesn't have a 300 horsepower motor. The figures mentioned in the letter are certainly a lot more accurate than yours.

Stop trying to defend the indefensible. Fat people for years have blamed everyone but themselves for being fat. "Glandular problems" - like chocolate cake is a gland. "Advertising" - so turn of the TV and go for a walk. "Processed foods" - anyone holding a gun to your head and making you supersize everything? Nope.

Fat people get fat one mouthful at a time. Take some personal responsibility. Put down the fork and stop taking "all you can eat" as a commandment.

Naturally, the study posits a silly generalization. There are medical reasons and heredity reasons and all manner of mental/emotional reasons that cause obesity. I work with a woman that eats less than half I do but my BMI is much much lower than hers. To the person generalizing that obese people cost more in health care, that's proved wrong - first, they don't live as long, as a group, and a recent study showed they use less total dollars over their lives than do healthy BMI persons. Second, many of them won't go to doctors unless it is a critical matter because the medical profession can't seem to teach the doctors not to berate the patient about their weight. Who will go pay for humiliation by an authority figure?

Yes, but fat people die younger and thus consume less than healthy people.

So what? There are so many reasons to lose weight that are more compelling than a rough and shallow estimate of the effect on global warming. The vast majority of people who succeed in losing weight gain it all back with interest. Maybe it would be a better use of time for the researche to study effective ways of losing weight and keeping it off than to do silly calculations like this.

Great, now I'm hungry.

It has been proven that cows farting produces more gas that harms the ozone than cars do. It as also been stated that the burning of crops for ethonel is creating more negative impact on the ozone than the processing of petrol. yet these jerks just pasted a bill that will keep this nonsense alive until...................well you figure it out. These studies are designed to keep the BS researches employed nothing more.

While we're blaming fat people for global warming, we shouldn't forget that woman from Arkansas who just had her 18th baby. If we're going to examine fat people, let's examine 'baby factories' across the country as well. All those extra kids on an overly populated planet....maybe their strory should have read like this :OBESE PEOPLE AND A LACK OF BIRTH CONTROL ARE CONTRIBUTING TO GLOBAL WARMING. Honestly people, we are HUMANS, not DOGS, and having litters is being part of the problem, not the solution.

This article and subsequent comments, including this one unfortunately, are contributing to global climate change. The effort to type them, the electricity to transmit and energy to maintain them. The comments are making this article a bit obese.
The point isn't to stop doing everything because just about anything can contribute to global warming or to give up and do nothing for the same reason. By prioritizing and making wise decisions, the planet's resources can be managed in a way that promotes the prosperity and longevity of humanity and the ecosystem that we are a part.
The hardest thing is balancing the short and long term happiness that one may postulate we all have a right to pursue. If enough people really try to use this idea as one of their dominate guides in their life, then perhaps over the whole this comment will contribute to a net negative carbon footprint.
Now I'm going to head to the gym to use additional energy trying to burn up the extra resources I've already consumed. Empires are neither built nor destroyed in a day...

Studies also show fat people are particularly defensive. Haha.



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