fatties poised for takeover

Dear Uma: The headline -- Fatties Cause Global Warming -- made me read it. The two authors were from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Their research led them to conclude overweight people are producing more greenhouse gases.

Dear Uma:

The headline—Fatties Cause Global Warming—made me read it. The two authors were from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Their research led them to conclude overweight people are producing more greenhouse gases.

“Moving about in a heavy body requires more food and energy to maintain and to transport. It’s like driving a gas guzzler,” said one of the authors.

Then, in one of those richly suggestive coincidences, Lari sent me a book called Globesity: A Planet Out of Control.

Since I shared with him my conversations with the biologists in Whitehorse last year, he claims to be seeing the world through the lens of connectedness. Reading this book prompted him to lose that clinging 10 pounds that obsessed him for years, he tells me.

Globesity was authored by four public health researchers who have shown how climate change and obesity draw from a shared web of roots.

Both problems have gotten worse with the spread of car culture and desk jobs, and with carbon-intensive foods becoming available to more and more eaters.

The developing world is heading towards emitting carbon dioxide at the same levels as the industrial world while simultaneously adopting the worst dietary and lifestyle habits of the richer countries.

The US was the original home of the fatties, but these researchers tell us one in six people in the whole world are overweight, one in 12 are obese, and there are now more obese people in poor countries than there are in Western countries!

This was news to me and has caused me to regard my fellow citizens with a more discerning eye. Counting off a group of 12 in a small town can be difficult, but I had the opportunity to do just that when the town celebrated its 25th anniversary with a fete in Wye Lake Park.

The results were more like those of a really, really underdeveloped country—most were overweight. The necessity of surviving long winters is the most likely explanation I can come up with, until the International Obesity Task Force comes to town and tells me otherwise.

Germany, Finland and the Czech Republic now have higher rates of obesity than the US, according to data from the International Obesity Task Force.

In some of the Mediterranean countries, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, the population has passed the American fatties in weight and girth, in spite of their fame for healthy diets, their slow cooking and civilized approach to dining. The traditional olive oil-centric recipes have become too high in fat for a people who are less active than they used to be.

This news has come as a shock, even though they’ve seen a huge transition in what food is available—processed convenience food, just like most places now.

More disturbing is the rise in childhood obesity.

America may have been the trailblazer; their rates doubled from l975 to 1995—from 15 per cent to 30 per cent—but England caught up in half the time. The Brits went from 15 per cent in 1995 to 30 per cent in 2005.

In Spain, Italy, Albania and Greece, between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of children are overweight. Gruesome, isn’t it? And terribly sad.

The social stigma attached to being fat is no deterrent, even though they are seen as being greedy, lazy and having no self control.

Researchers say it’s because of the environment they live in, an environment in which schools and workplace cafeterias offer only high-calorie foods; in which urban design discourages walking; and in which government subsidies make fresh produce more expensive than potato chips.

The lefties and the righties are at odds on the fat issue of course, with liberals emphasizing structural, social problems while conservatives see an issue of individual responsibility.

However, for Holdsworth, one of the authors of Globesity, childhood rates are the crucial distinction.

“Society’s attitudes toward children are not the same as they are toward adults,” she says. “It’s not so easy to blame children who are overweight and say they are weak-willed. Children are only eating what they’re given, or what’s made available to them.”

“We’re finding a lot of governments taking the safe option of saying, ‘We need to educate people so they know what they should do.’ That completely ignores the causes of why people eat what they eat and why they aren’t very active.”

Educational campaigns on their own rarely change people’s habits, she says, but bans on smoking in public places across Europe have convinced her there is political space for strong actions with public health benefits.

“It shows that you can really take a radical action—taking away choice from people—and even smokers are saying how pleased they are,” she tells us.

Not all smokers, I’ll bet, any more than not all feeders would welcome similar stringent rules about where and what they ate.

The good news is that the problems of obesity and global warming may be connected, but so are the solutions. Rethinking neighbourhoods to encourage more walking, junk-food taxes, limits on advertising to children, and clear labeling standards would help both problems.

Cutting subsidies that give a cost advantage to junk food staples like corn syrup could do a great deal, but like the other measures, it would require political courage.

Top-down regulation isn’t the best idea: Europeans may accept more readily such measures than Americans, and many developing countries simply don’t have the infrastructure to execute strict food-labeling standards or other bureaucratic fixes.

All in all, it was an interesting read, for the new words and phrases if nothing else. I can now speak knowledgably about globesity, and obesidemic environments, though I cannot think of when or where I may be called upon to do so.

My own observations have shown a growing accommodation for the obese. They may have two seats on an airplane for the price of one, for example. Queen and king-size beds are common now; finding bed clothes for a double bed can be a challenge. There are even king-sized pillows, for their fat heads, I guess, and restaurant servings are for the most part much larger than they used to be when everyone was svelte. Almost every line of clothing comes in a plus size; the obese can be as fashionable as they want to be, albeit for a bit more money which is only fair considering the clothing requires more fabric.

The only remaining hurdle to a full life for an overfull person is certain fairground rides and some scooters and float toys that maintain a weight restriction.

Of more immediate concern for me these past few days are the dogs that have chosen our yard for their canine orgies. There is a bitch in heat and not just any old bitch. If the numbers of suitors are to be believed, she is one hot number. There is ferocious competition for her favours, often demonstrated by dramatic fights.

These fights are blessedly short, but loud, and sometimes there is a bit of blood. Yet it seems everyone gets a turn, regardless of any winner/loser outcomes, with Pete and I being treated to a doggy Cirque du Soleil outside our windows.

Whatever obesidemic environment

plagues the human population of Watson Lake, it appears to leave the dogs unaffected as they are all very slim and fit, as is the object of their affections.

Could it be so simple? Do we just need more hot bitches?

Love,

Heather

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