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Changing Lifestyle May Save Planet Earth

Monday, April 20th, 2009 Changing Lifestyle May Save Planet Earth

Both the Guardian (Alok Jha) and the BBC (20 04 09) are running stories surrounding the issues of carbon emissions that are being fuelled specifically by the high rates of obesity.

Hence, getting back to the relatively slim, trim days of the 1970s would help to tackle climate change.

Indeed it is the high rates of obesity in richer countries that is causing up to 1bn extra tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, compared with countries with leaner populations, according to a study that assesses the additional food and fuel requirements of the overweight. The finding is particularly worrying, scientists say, because obesity is on the rise in many rich nations.

“Population fatness has an environmental impact,” said Phil Edwards, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We’re all being told to stay fit and keep our weight down because it’s good for our health. The important thing is that staying slim is good for your health and for the health of the planet.”

The rising numbers of people who are overweight and obese in the UK means the nation uses 19% more food than 40 years ago, a study suggests.

That could equate to an extra 60 mega tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. Furthermore, transport costs of a fatter population were also included in the International Journal of Epidemiology study.

Dr Phil Edwards, study leader and researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said they had set out to calculate what the UK energy consumption would be if the weight of the population was put back a few decades.

A “normal” adult population, where only 3.5% are classed as obese, was compared with a population where 40% are obese.

These populations reflect the proportions of overweight and obese people living in the UK in the 1970s - and what is predicted for the UK in 2010, the researchers said.

In addition to calculating the increased food costs of the heavier population, the team worked out how much additional fuel would be needed for transportation of modern-day UK compared with the 1970s version.

Greenhouse gas emissions from food production and car travel in the fatter population would be between 0.4 to 1 giga tonnes higher per 1bn people, they estimated.

n their model, the researchers compared a population of 1 billion lean people, with weight distributions equivalent to a country such as Vietnam, with 1 billion people from richer countries, such as the US, where about 40% of the population is classified obese.

The fatter population needed 19% more food energy for its energy requirements, they found. They also factored in greater car use by the overweight. “The heavier our bodies become the harder it is to move about in them and the more dependent we become on cars,” they wrote.

It is without argument that generally, people are bigger than they were three decades ago.

Between 1994 and 2004, the average male body mass index (BMI) in England increased from 26 to 27.3, with the average female BMI rising from 25.8 to 26.9 which equates to about 3 kg - or half a stone - heavier.

“This is not really just about obese people, the distribution of the whole population is what’s important,” said Dr Edwards.

“Everybody is getting a bit fatter.”

“Staying slim is good for health and for the environment.

“We need to be doing a lot more to reverse the global trend towards fatness, and recognise it as a key factor in the battle to reduce emissions and slow climate change.”

It is not just a UK issue - in nearly every country in the world, the average BMI is rising.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health said shifting the population weight distribution back to that of the 1970s would do quite a lot to help the planet.

“In the 1970s we had bigger portions of vegetables and smaller portions of meat and there’s been a shift in the amount of exercise we do.

“All these things are combining to hurt the planet and this is a calculation that deserves a bit more attention,” he said.

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