something else to blame on fat people: global warming

Not only are fat people lazy, self-indulgent and visually offensive, they are helping to destroy the planet.
Obesity contributes to global warming, too.

Obese and overweight people require more fuel to transport them and the food they eat, and the problem will worsen as the population literally swells in size, a team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine says.

This adds to food shortages and higher energy prices, the school's researchers Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts wrote in the journal Lancet on Friday.

"We are all becoming heavier and it is a global responsibility," Edwards said in a telephone interview. "Obesity is a key part of the big picture."

A key part of the picture? Really?

Is an overweight person who takes public transportation more of a threat to the environment than a thin person who drives an SUV? (What about if the thin person drives back and forth to the gym in an SUV every day?)

Do you know how much the thin person eats? There's an assumption a thin person eats less than a heavier person, but that's not necessarily the case.

Has anyone even studied the carbon footprints of a large number of obese people and compared them to the environmental footprints of a large number of thin people? If not, isn't this "finding" just an assumption?

Looking for a link to this story, I was glad to find Gina Kolata's response. Kolata is the author of Rethinking Thin, which I blogged about here. In that book, Kolata examines the hard, scientific evidence about obesity and comes to a pretty clear conclusion: body size and shape are only slightly more malleable than eye colour.
First we said they were ruining their health with their bad habit, and they should just quit.

Then we said they were repulsive and we didn't want to be around them. Then we said they were costing us loads of money — maybe they should pay extra taxes. Other Americans, after all, do not share their dissolute ways.

Cigarette smokers? No, the obese.

Last week the list of ills attributable to obesity grew: fat people cause global warming.

This latest contribution to the obesity debate comes in an article by Sheldon H. Jacobson of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and his doctoral student, Laura McLay. Their paper, published in the current issue of The Engineering Economist, calculates how much extra gasoline is used to transport Americans now that they have grown fatter. The answer, they said, is a billion gallons a year.

Their conclusion is in the same vein as a letter published last year in The American Journal of Public Health. Its authors, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did a sort of back-of-the-envelope calculation of how much extra fuel airlines spend hauling around fatter Americans. The answer, they wrote, based on the extra 10 pounds the average American gained in the 1990’s, is 350 million gallons, which means an extra 3.8 million tons of carbon dioxide.

"People are out scouring the landscape for things that make obese people look bad," said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

And is that a bad thing? Dr. Jacobson doesn't think so. "We felt that beyond public health, being overweight has many other socioeconomic implications," he said, which was why he was drawn to calculating the gasoline costs of added weight.

The idea of using economic incentives to help people shed pounds comes up in the periodic calls for taxes on junk food. Martin B. Schmidt, an economist at the College of William and Mary, suggests a tax on food bought at drive-through windows. Describing his theory in a recent Op-Ed article in The New York Times, Dr. Schmidt said people would expend more calories if they had to get out of their cars to pick up their food.

"We tax cigarettes in part because of their health cost," he wrote. "Similarly, the individual's decision to lead a sedentary lifestyle will end up costing taxpayers."

Eric Oliver, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said his first instinct was to laugh at the gas and drive-through arguments. But such claims often get wide attention, he says, and take on a life of their own.

"This is like, let's find another reason to scapegoat fat people," Dr. Oliver says.

. . .

The message in the blame-obesity approach, said James Morone, a political science professor at Brown University, is that it is so important to persuade fat people to lose weight that common sense disappears.

"Anything we can say to persuade you, we will say," Dr. Morone added.

So is it working?

It doesn't seem to be. Fat people are more reviled than ever, researchers find, even as more people become fat. When smokers and heavy drinkers turned pariah, rates of smoking and drinking went down. Won't fat people, in time, follow suit?

Research suggests that the stigma of being fat leads to more eating, not less. And if reducing the stigma suggests a solution, that's not working either.

. . .

One problem with blaming people for being fat, obesity researchers say, is that getting thin is not like quitting smoking. People struggle to stop smoking, but many, in the end, succeed. Obesity is different. It's not that the obese don’t care. Instead, as science has shown over and over, they have limited personal control over their weight. Genes play a significant role, the science says.

That is not a popular message, Dr. Brownell says. And the notion that anyone can be thin with a little effort has consequences. "Once weight is due to a personal failing, a lot of things follow," he said. There’s the attitude that if you are fat, you deserve to be stigmatized. Maybe it will motivate you to lose weight. The opposite happens.

In a paper published Oct. 10 in Obesity, Dr. Brownell and his colleagues studied more than 3,000 fat people, asking them about their experiences of stigmatization and discrimination and how they responded.

Almost everyone said they ate more.


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