America's obesity epidemic and global warming might not seem to
have much in common. But public health experts suggest people can
attack them both by cutting calories and carbon dioxide at the same
How? Get out of your car and walk or bike half an hour a day
instead of driving. And while you're at it, eat less red meat.
That's how Americans can simultaneously save the planet and their
health, say doctors and climate scientists.
The payoffs are huge, although unlikely to happen. One
numbers-crunching scientist calculates that if all Americans
between 10 and 74 walked just half an hour a day instead of
driving, they would cut the annual US emissions of carbon dioxide,
the chief greenhouse gas, by 64 million tons.
About 6.5 billion gallons of gasoline would be saved. And
Americans would also shed more than 3 billion pounds overall,
according to these calculations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering
public promotion of the "co-benefits" of fighting global warming
and obesity-related illnesses through everyday exercise, like
walking to school or work, said Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the
CDC's National Center for Environmental Health.
"A simple intervention like walking to school is a climate
change intervention, an obesity intervention, a diabetes
intervention, a safety intervention," Frumkin said. "That's the
Climate change is a deadly and worsening public health issue,
said Frumkin and other experts. The World Health Organization
estimated that 160,000 people died in 2000 from malaria, diarrhea,
malnutrition and drownings from floods - problems that public
health and climate scientists contend were worsened by global
warming. Officials predict that in the future those numbers will be
The American Public Health Association, which will highlight the
health problems of global warming in April, is seeking to connect
obesity and climate change solutions, said executive director Dr
"This may present the greatest public health opportunity that
we've had in a century," said University of Wisconsin health
sciences professor Dr Jonathan Patz, president of the International
Association for Ecology and Health.
The key is getting people out of the car, Patz and Frumkin told
the public health association at its annual convention. Reducing
car travel in favor of biking or walking would not only cut obesity
and greenhouse gases, they said, it would also mean less smog,
fewer deaths from car crashes, less osteoporosis, and even less
depression since exercise helps beat the blues.
In a little-noticed scientific paper in 2005, Paul Higgins, a
scientist and policy fellow with the American Meteorological
Society, calculated specific savings from adopting federal
government recommendations for half an hour a day of exercise
instead of driving.
The average person walking half an hour a day would lose about
13 pounds a year. And if everyone did that instead of driving the
same distance, the nation would burn a total of 10.5 trillion
calories, according to the scientist, formerly with the University
of California at Berkeley. He said it would also cut carbon dioxide
emissions by about the same amount produced by the state of New
Mexico, which has around 2 million people.
"The real bang for the buck in reducing greenhouse gas emissions
was from the avoided health expenses of a sedentary lifestyle,"
But it is not just getting out of the car that is needed, said
Dr Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public
A diet shift away from heavy meat consumption would also go far,
he said, because it takes much more energy and land to produce meat
than fruits, vegetables and grains.
(Agencies via China Daily November 13, 2007)