Be Green and Healthy: The Environmental Cost of Obesity

Dr. William Davis

obesity epidemic


We all know that excess weight is bad for health, but the environment, too?


Sure, you can replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and save $36 in energy costs and 600 lbs of carbon emission. You can purchase produce grown locally by season and thereby reduce market demand for fruits and vegetables flown in from out of state and out of the country. You can insulate your home and install low-output shower heads to reduce use of heated water. All of these strategies can be readily incorporated into our lives in the cause of reducing our carbon footprint.


But look around you: there's an insidious and substantial burden on the environment that is right beneath our noses, one that also carries enormous health implications sufficient to abbreviate lifespan by many years. I'm referring to biggest epidemic of our age: being overweight, the condition that now affects 127 million adults.


There's one sure-fire way to improve health while doing your part to promote a healthy environment: Get skinny.


It takes energy to be overweight


Let's do some simple arithmetic.


Compared to what Americans weighed in 1960, adults now average 24 lbs more (U. S. Dept. Health and Human Services). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 218 million adults in the U.S. Therefore, for every adult to gain 24 lbs would yield 5.2 billion excess pounds. Expressed in total calories gained: 18 trillion calories. In other words, just to increase adult weight an average of 24 lbs requires the equivalent calories of nearly 30 billion Whoppers, 33 billion Big Macs, and equals sufficient calories to feed every man, woman, and child among the 75 million in Ethiopia for nearly 6 months.


The energy required to increase the weight of a nation by this much is mind-bogglingly large.


Excess weight is not a free ride. It requires substantial resources to feed Americans the excess calories to create this weight surplus, not to mention the long-term increment in calorie "needs" to sustain people at heavier weights. Millions more beef cattle and pigs need to be raised and slaughtered, hundreds of thousands more acres corn and wheat grown, more food processed into hamburgers, pizzas, and Wheat Chex®. All this requires more fertilizer and pesticides, water, feed, transportation, and processing.

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