Friday, July 1, 2011

Obesity and its relation to climate change

Floyd Wills
Environmental Studies
PHS 100A
Warner Pacific College

June 30, 2011

“This might be the first generation where kids are dying at a younger age than their parents and it's related primarily to the obesity problem.”
Judy Davis

You read about it in the newspaper, hear discussions on the different talk shows and radio programs about the damage it does to the health of countless millions of people, the strain it puts on our healthcare system, and its contribution to the acceleration of climate change. This destructive epidemic is obesity. According to (2011) the definition of obesity is, a condition characterized by the excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body. A person has traditionally been considered obese if they are 20% over their ideal weight. Adult obesity rates have more than doubled since 1980 from 15% of the population to a current 34%. If that is not bad enough, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since the 80’s! Currently 17% of all children in the U.S. are obese. One quarter of all healthcare expenses are related to obesity. You might be saddened by these statistics, but you might be asking the question, “So what does this issue have to do with climate change?” Let us take a look at how obesity contributes to climate change; according to Shaweta Chauhan, the author of the article, “Obesity leading to climate change,” (2009). Obesity affects our climate in the following ways:
• People who are obese consume more food, which causes more carbon emissions resulting from extra food production.
• Obesity creates a greater load on transport vehicles, resulting in more fuel consumption.
• It is more difficult to move around in a heavy body than it is to move around in a slim body, so obese people are more likely to use their car for transportation as opposed to walking or riding a bicycle.
• Poor and excessive eating habits increase fossil fuel consumption, because more chemical fertilizers are used, along with food processing, packaging, and transport.
• Not only is it contributing to climate change, obesity brings with it health problems such as increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
Everywhere you turn there is a fast food restaurant on every corner. Billboards with enticing pictures of juicy hamburgers, golden french-fries, and ice cold Coca-Colas adorned with such phrases as, “I’m lovin it!” More like, “I’m hating it when I have a heart attack from eating all this fattening food!”
So what are the costs of being a fast food nation? What many people do not stop and think about is how much resources are required in order for you to get that Big Mac in your hand. In the article, “The Repercussions of Eating Meat,” (2010) the author references a 2006 UN published a report that stated that the livestock industry is a top contributor to the damage that is being caused to our environment. In order to get the meat we love to consume, massive amounts of livestock must be fed, watered, transported, and slaughtered on a daily basis. The crops alone to feed these animals amount to 70% of all the crops in the world! High consumption of meat has led to global deforestation. Farmers clear the forest so they can plant more crops in order to provide food to the livestock so we can butcher them for their meat. The livestock produce large amounts of waste in the form of manure that piles up and can potentially find its way into drinking water. In addition, the methane gas the livestock produces equals to about 65% of the nitrous oxide that pollutes the air and accelerates climate change on a global scale.
What can we do to stop obesity? The first thing we can do is to start with ourselves by reducing the amount of meat we consume on a regular basis. I enjoy eating meat, and do not think I could go vegan, but if I cut my meat consumption down to half of what I normally eat, I can still make a huge difference in the carbon footprint I am leaving on this planet. Another way we can stem the tide of obesity is by getting regular exercise. There are so many benefits to taking care of your body, both physically and mentally. Besides, this is the only body you get while on this earth, so you might as well take good care of it! I believe our educational systems need to step up and offer our children healthier food choices. Let’s get the junk food machines, and fast food stalls off of our campuses! Children and adults need to be educated on making healthier food choices and how those choices not only affect them, but also how they impact the environment as well. I don’t understand why some of the schools are cutting physical education programs for children when we need these programs now more than ever! We have generations of kids who do not get enough exercise. When I was a kid, I remember playing outside for hours on end, running, playing various physical games, climbing trees, and going out in the fields to pick berries so I could make enough money to buy my school clothes. Nowadays, it seems many kids are just playing video games, watch television, and surf the net. How do we reach these generations? It is time for society to teach our children the value of living a healthy lifestyle. If we live a healthy lifestyle, we set an example to our children and those around us to follow.
How does the issue of obesity affect my career path of becoming a counselor? I believe in the future when I am working in the field of professional counseling, I will be working with some clients who struggle with obesity. In an article on The American Counseling Association website titled, “More than meets the eye,” (2009). The author, Lynne Shallcross writes, "We have become a nation of convenience, and certainly, packaged food products, fast food restaurants and portion sizes all play a role," says Judith Warchal, a psychologist at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center in Reading, Pa. "But it's not just about the food that we eat. It's a far more complex issue. If it was just ‘Stop eating,' it would be a far easier problem to solve. Alcoholics can stop drinking (and still survive), but we can't stop eating. So it becomes a more complex issue in trying to manage the food that we eat." These individuals might be dealing with such issues as, addiction, social isolationism, shame, low self-esteem and confidence, depression, or even sexual abuse issues, connected with their obesity. Often times, overweight and obese people experience bias and discrimination because of their weight. I will need to be knowledgeable in the biochemistry behind weight management, basic anatomy, biology, and chemistry. I will also need to have the appropriate resources to provide my clients with regards to living a healthy and balanced life.
People often wonder if they can really make a difference when it comes to our sustainability with all the pollution that goes on around the globe. I believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” When we start by making simple life style changes that are good for us and our environment we are setting of a chain reaction to those around us. Many small changes can equal huge change. Each of us is on this planet for a short period of time, like a traveler passing through on a long journey, eventually returning to the place from which we came. On this journey each of has a choice about how we are going to treat and interact with the world around us, knowing from within that what we do while we are here will leave an imprint for the next generation to follow.


Shallcross, L. (2009). More Than Meets The Eye
Retrieved June 29, 2011 from

Shaweta, C. (2009). Obesity leading to climate change.
Retrieved June 29, 2011 from

(2009). The Repercussions of Eating Meat
Retrieved June 29, 2011 from

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