5 surprising eco-impacts of being overweight
Losing that extra weight isn't just good for you — it's also good for the planet.
Wed, Jun 06 2012 at 5:50 PM
Photo: Jeff Haynes/AFP
Bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to green living. In fact, the worldwide obesity epidemic (a stunning two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese) contributes to the Earth’s most significant environmental problems — everything from rampant resource consumption to climate change to oversized piles of waste.
Even if you’re not yet shopping in the plus-size department or finding it hard to squeeze through doorways, consider the following eco-impacts of carrying extra weight. You just might be inspired to shed those unwanted pounds once and for all — not simply for your own health but for the health of the entire planet.
Fuel guzzling. The greater your girth, the more likely you are to hop in the car instead of walking or riding your bike. And the more you drive, the more gas you use, meaning more oil drilling and more carbon emissions. Obese people also have lower fuel efficiency because they tend to need bigger vehicles, plus their cars have to work harder to shuttle the extra weight. One recent study found that Americans are burning almost 1 billion more gallons of gas each year due to their expanded waistlines than they did in 1960. Not only that, but the fuel needs and carbon emissions of airplanes and other forms of public transportation are also on the rise as people pack on more pounds.
Bigger stuff, steeper use of resources. Dude ranches are opting for super-sized saddles to accommodate their super-sized clientele. Furniture makers are making plus-size sofas and loveseats for bigger behinds, and clothing manufacturers are expanding pant waistlines, to fit wider bodies. Even caskets and toilet seats now come in grande sizes. All this means more natural resources to make bigger (and heavier) products, plus more air pollution and carbon emissions to ship them around the world.
Home energy-hogging. This one’s a little harder to prove because there aren’t good statistics, so bear with us. Studies show that people who watch more TV and pursue other sedentary pastimes like surfing the Web or playing video games tend to weigh more. Thus, it’s probably fair to assume that overweight people are at home more and using more electricity to power their electronic entertainment. They may also crank up the air conditioning a few notches higher in warm weather due to their extra body insulation. Of course, all that added padding could balance things out a bit in winter with lower thermostats.
Heavier reliance on (unsustainable) health care. People who carry too much weight suffer more from diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes and certain cancers. As a result, they use more medical resources (almost $1,500 more per year than normal-weight people), which has an enormous eco-impact. The health care sector (hospitals, medical research facilities, and pharmaceutical companies) produces about 8 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions, and hospitals alone account for 4 percent of its energy consumption. Add to that the fact that drugs are routinely released in waterways by pharmaceutical companies and excreted in human urine — a significant source of drinking-water contamination and harm to wildlife.
Soaring food production. Obviously eating too much and obesity go hand in hand. In fact, obese people consume about 20 percent more at mealtimes than leaner populations. All this additional food generates additional carbon emissions from agricultural operations and during transport, as well as the need for heaps of additional fertilizer, pesticides, farm land and water. Plus, obese people also tend to consume more packaged junk food, meaning higher mountains of Styrofoam, cardboard and plastic.
- Healthy foods that will help you lose weight
- 10 simple steps to lighter living
- Why obesity can be infectious
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