Could the obesity epidemic — and a general weight gain in the U.S. population — be adding substantially to our energy-use requirements and thus to our “carbon footprint” and stress on the planet? Think about glass versus plastic containers for any type of product, such as peanut butter, brewed tea or mayonnaise. Glass on average takes 40 percent more fuel to transport because of the difference in weight. So the weight of material used in packaging or containers largely determines how energy intensive it is.
This got me to thinking about the United 757 flight I am currently on with, let’s say, 158 passengers. If the average weight is 185 pounds, then if we just lost 10 percent of that weight, we would reduce the load on the plane by 3,000 pounds and the aircraft’s weight by 1.4 percent, and the energy to keep it in flight by a corresponding number. This would apply as well to cars and buses or anything that uses energy to move people.
You might even say there’s a connection between waste management and waist management, by which I mean that reducing the average waist size of 300 million Americans by just one inch or their weight by five pounds each would create a significant reduction in the amount of food products we consume and the packaging they require. Now let’s say that the weight of the average person was reduced by 2.7 percent with a ripple effect throughout. Considering that the average food commodity travels 1,500 miles, think about the energy we could save by reducing the size of shipments. And that’s to say nothing of reducing the amount of water pumped to produce this food, or the petroleum based chemicals used to grow it (which we’d be even better off eliminating entirely). Then when you proceed to count the reductions we could achieve in the numbers of trees cut down and the oil used for the plastic in the packaging, even a small decrease in food consumption, especially of processed and fast food, starts to make a meaningful difference. If you had a correlated reduction of solid waste in the U.S., the 2.7% percent would amount to eliminating 12,400,000 pounds of trash.
From this perspective, losing weight will not only make for healthier people, but a healthier planet as well.
All of which is part of my personal quest to reframe how we think about sustainability by challenging existing models that don’t work anymore and continuing to make sure we connect all the dots and explore more holistic approaches to preserving our habitat.