The impact of global obesity

Obesity is going global (photo: artist in doing nothing via Flickr)

A new report from the London School of Hygiene estimates that obesity epidemic has produced an extra 18.5 million metric tones of global fat, which is about 20 million US tons.  Give or take a few million.  Assuming I got that conversion right, that’s a lot of fat.  The report says the extra weight is the equivalent of adding another billion people to the planet, which has all kinds of implications for resource use.

The US leads the pack, with 1/3 of the obesity but only 6% of the population.  But other countries are catching up, and the researchers focus blame on car culture, especially in Middle East countries like Kuwait and Qatar.  The more time you spend sitting in a car, the less active you are.  As I’ve noted previously, sitting seems to turn metabolism down in unexpected ways, making weight gain easier.

We’ve all heard the warnings about how obesity increases chronic disease.  But obesity can have other adverse impacts:

  • Impaired mobility: too much sitting made you gain weight; now your joints are deteriorating due to the stress from all that excess weight.  Which means you spend even more of your time sitting, and eventually require mobility aids, like wheelchairs.  Which means those have to be manufactured and shipped.
  • Larger homes: to accommodate larger furniture for larger bodies, along with allowing more space for mobility chairs.
  • More air conditioning: obese people are less heat tolerant, so there’s more stress on energy grids, as obese people rev the air conditioning.
  • Larger cars to accommodate larger bodies burning more fossil fuel.
  • Larger clothes, which require more fuel to transport than smaller sized clothes.
  • More food consumed: obese people maintain weight by eating more calories.  Otherwise they’d lose weight.  Can agriculture keep up with the increasing demand?
  • More fossil fuel used for all other forms of transportation, such as planes, buses and trains, to move larger bodies.
  • More demand for lifelong medical intervention to combat the numerous chronic diseases associated with obesity, like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, arthritis and infections.  This is expensive.
  • Lost productivity of the workforce, as more and more people are dealing with disabling diseases.

The report is certainly interesting, but will probably do little to convince individuals to take action to reduce body weight.  Warnings and scare tactics haven’t worked so far, and there’s no reason to suspect this will be any different.  Obesity is quickly becoming the new normal.

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