A Global Shift toward Obesity Has Serious Climate Consequences
By Umair Irfan
Expanding waistlines are not just tipping scales but may also push the mercury higher around the world, according to a new study.
As humanity becomes more rotund, more resources are needed to cool, nourish and transport the extra weight, a trend that can contribute to climate change by requiring the consumption of more fossil fuels and resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions.
Emerging economies are nudging their way into this movement as they seek the trappings of modern prosperity—personal cars, sedentary air-conditioned office jobs and fast-food—through dirty energy. Now a paper published this week in BMC Public Health calculates how human populations have grown in number and size, teasing out how obesity contributes to human biomass and the extra energy needed to sustain that heft.
"Energy use is a function of the basal metabolic rate," the amount of energy an individual consumes at rest, explained Sarah Walpole, a practicing physician in the United Kingdom and a co-author of the study. "A heavier body needs more food to be sustained."
Carrying that extra weight means eating more, which means more food has to be produced, packaged, transported and refrigerated, increasing how much electricity and fuel is needed per person. Heavier bodies also need more fuel to move around as engines and motors strain under heavier loads. It makes intuitive sense, but how much of an impact does "fatness" actually have?
To find out, Walpole and her co-authors used data from the World Health Organization and the United Nations to calculate the average adult body mass in different countries. They also calculated physical activity levels controlling for age and gender.
North Americans hold the heavyweight title
The results showed the global average body mass was 62 kilograms (137 pounds), but in North America, the average was 80.7 kg (178 pounds) while in Asia it was 57.7 kg (112 pounds). Though North America is home to 6 percent of the world's population, it accounts for 34 percent of the world's human biomass due to obesity. On the other hand, Asia, home to 60 percent of the world's population, has 13 percent of obesity-related biomass.
And these numbers are only going up. Developing countries are emulating wealthier nations, consuming more energy, becoming less physically active and eating fattier foods en route to industrialization. "The whole population of the world is shifting [its lifestyle] to that of the United States," said Ian Roberts, a co-author and professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
If the rest of the world ate, worked and lived like Americans, humanity's spare tire would swell by the equivalent mass of 935 million average-sized people and soak up the food, water and electricity of an additional 473 million adults, according to the report. This would mean the average adult would eat an additional 261 calories per day.
There are some robust contenders. Just behind the U.S. in the list of top 10 heaviest countries is Kuwait. Four other Middle Eastern nations also make the list, which Roberts attributes in part to low gasoline prices in these regions. Cheap fuel means people are more likely to use cars instead of their legs to move around, so their spare food energy is stored as fat.
Asians are the lightweight models
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the list of lightest countries is topped off by North Korea, followed by Cambodia, Burundi and Nepal. If Japan were the model for the entire world, global human biomass would shrink by 14.6 million metric tons, equal to 235 million people of average mass. Energy requirements would decrease as if there were 107 million fewer adults on the planet.
Roberts said the results indicate that conventional wisdom on aid and international development needs to be reassessed. "We don't feed mouths, we feed bodies. We feed flesh," he said, adding that the blame for resource scarcity and ecological degradation should be placed less on poor people having more children and more on the relatively wealthy living unhealthy and unsustainable lives.
"Fat is a personal problem, a planetary health problem and a political health problem," Roberts said. Thus, Roberts prescribes structural changes to the world in addition to diet and exercise. He noted that the economic and societal incentives that push for overconsumption lead to national debts, environmental harm and health problems. "It's the same problem that's killing kids, making us fat and contributing to global climate change," he said.
The researchers are now looking into how obesity will change in the future. "The next step is to try and predict future trends in terms of body mass increases," Walpole said. "We really expect resource use to go up with body weight."
By Daisy Simmons
1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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