What is it about?

New research from the Department of Economics at American University of Sharjah finds that obesity may be a significant contributor to climate change. This research, which was published in the journal Public Health, assessed the connection between the obesity rate and greenhouse gas emissions across the United States over a 15-year period. According to Dr. Jay Squalli, the author of this study and Professor of Economics in the Department of Economics of the School of Business Administration, this research lies on the premise that obese people are not only heavier to transport but also frequent users of private vehicles. As a result, increased fuel consumption is expected to increase carbon emissions. Obese people also consume more food than their leaner counterparts, and that could contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, in order to satisfy the larger consumption of food, more pesticides and fertilizers must be used to increase yields, and these larger yields must be then transported to their end-users. The study estimated that the transportation sector would be a net contributor to carbon dioxide emissions if the obesity rate exceeded 33.7 percent, which currently sits at or below the 2016 obesity rates of the US states of West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas. On the other hand, it estimated that transportation and crop and animal farming would be net contributors to nitrous oxide emissions if the obesity rate exceeded 22.5 percent and 20.2 percent, respectively.

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Why is it important?

Colorado is currently the only state with an obesity rate of 22.3 percent, which means that in the rest of the country obesity may have already pushed the transportation and crop and animal farming sectors to become net contributors to climate change. We must be more concerned in this context about nitrous oxide emissions, which come from agricultural soil management and transportation, among other things, and that have a 100-year global warming potential of up to 298. This means that one pound of nitrous oxide would cause 298 times as much harm to the environment as a pound of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. The study highlighted the challenges faced by policymakers in tackling the obesity epidemic not only in the United States but also across the world. It provided a number of suggestions. We need to have an open and candid discussion about the obesity problem. Political correctness and blame-shifting will only divert our attention and resources away from finding effective solutions.

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The environmental impact of obesity: longitudinal evidence from the United States, Public Health, August 2017, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.puhe.2017.04.016.
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