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Slimming Good For The Environment, Says Study
Green Futures, 21 Jul 09


by Sophie Blakemore

Countries with low body mass index emit fewer greenhouse gases

Staying slim is as important for the planet’s health as for our own, a new report reveals. Countries with normal rates of obesity (3.5%) consume almost 20% less food and produce up to one gigatonne fewer greenhouse gases than a population with a 40% obesity rate, concluded the article published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (IJE).

Its authors suggest that a higher rate of obesity would mean both an increase in emissions from food production, which today accounts for around a fifth of manmade greenhouse gases, and from transport. They conclude that leaner populations are more likely to walk and cycle, and that cars and planes use less fuel when transporting lighter people.

Forty per cent of adults in the US are already obese (defined as a body mass of more than 30kg/m2). The UK rate is currently 25%, and according to a recent article published in the journal of the Royal Statistical Society, this will rise to 30% next year.

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Dr Phil Edwards, co-author of the IJE report, called on governments and policy makers to recognise the link between “fat populations and climate change”. “Policymakers can promote [a slimmer populace] by making active transports like walking and cycling safer, as well as making healthy food options available at schools and workplaces,” he says.

One European city has already risen to the challenge. Ghent council, in Belgium, has declared every Thursday vegetarian day, to encourage its inhabitants to eat less meat and so take a step to more sustainable living.

To date, 94 restaurants have agreed to guarantee at least one vegetarian dish on Thursdays, the council claims, with some going completely meat-free. From September the main dish at all primary schools on that day will be vegetarian. Other cities, including São Paolo in Brazil and Genoa in Italy, have expressed an interest in replicating the move.

In the UK, former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters Stella and Mary have launched a ‘Meat Free Monday’ campaign, to raise awareness of vegetarianism and highlight the impact of food choices on the environment.

Researchers at the Institute for Environmental Studies in Amsterdam have come up with figures claiming that if every UK citizen took up the idea, the associated reduction in carbon emissions would be equal to taking five million cars off the road.

This piece originally appeared in Green Futures. Green Futures is published by Forum for the Future and is one of the leading magazines on environmental solutions and sustainable futures. Its aim is to demonstrate that a sustainable future is both practical and desirable – and can be profitable, too.

Image credit: avlxyz, CC License

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