How can you make the world a healthier place by taking action on climate change?
This book by Ian Roberts with Phil Edwards, “The Energy Glut”, links obesity – a health issue faced by an increasing number of countries to climate change.
These two do not seem obviously connected – surely obesity is something that people do to themselves by choosing to eat more and exercise less.
And the way to tackle obesity is to tell people that they should get better habits and train them how to eat more healthy food and exercise in gyms with all the equipment they need to keep fit.
But here lies the root cause of the problem according to the authors.
In developed countries everyone is getting fatter. Sure, there are some very thin people and some very fat people. But as a distribution, on average, populations in developed countries have a higher body mass index (BMI) now than they did a decade ago.
Why is this? Has everyone simply caught the same “bad habits”? Or is something else going on?
What is happening is that people are eating less than before on average. The problem is that they have reduced the amount of activity they do by even more than that. And the imbalance between the amount they move, and the amount they eat is stored up as fat.
So why do we move less?
Two obvious reasons are increasing amounts of TV watching and car ownership in households.
We spend a lot more time sitting and watching TV than we did before.
We also spend a lot more time in our cars.
One of the best charts in the book shows the correlation between BMI and gasoline consumption per person in 130 countries. This shows that as the amount of fuel used by individuals increases, the average BMI of the population rises.
In other words, car usage is linked to obesity.
As car usage is a major contributor to climate change, the book argues that climate change and obesity are linked.
As we make changes in our built environment to address climate change, creating car free cities and pedestrian friendly public spaces – we will tackle not just the problem of an overheating world but also population health.
Paris is leading the way, with plans to cut traffic in the capital and pedestrianize the city center and encourage low carbon transport such as electric cars.
This is not going to be easy. Transformation never is.
But there will also be opportunities for companies that see how things are moving.
For example, Jaguar Land Rover plans to build electricity vehicles in the UK if the infrastructure can be put in place. A commitment from a major player like that could make a big impact on the European market.
The book argues that cutting our dependence on fossil fuels and using cars less will lead to lower levels of obesity in populations.
But societies need to create an environment that makes walking and cycling an easier option than driving.
So… in summary, the problem of population obesity is at its heart a political problem, and needs political action to be solved – and policy measures that decarbonize transport will also help tackle obesity.