26 June 2012


We're accustomed to think of overcrowding being a result of sheer numbers, too many people.  It is equally valid to think of overcrowding being a result of sheer mass, people who are overweight or obese.  That is the premise of Ellen Fanning's Global Mail article Just How Fat Are We?  Here are a few observations to ponder ~

  • Globally, so many of us are overweight or obese that it's equivalent to having an extra 300 million mouths to feed (roughly the population of the United States).
  • If every nation's population was as fat as America's, it would be the same as having an extra billion bodies on earth.
  • People who are fat have a disproportionately large ecological footprint.  If we're fatter, we need more energy just to move around.  So an overweight person needs to eat more than a trim person to undertake the same level of physical activity.  In fact, overweight or obese people burn up more energy than skinny people even when they're just sitting around.
  • Obesity, according to Australian public health academic Garry Egger, is more than just a lack of individual self-control.  "Obesity is collateral damage in the battle for modernity, an unintended but unavoidable consequence of economic progress.  Obesity is not a disease, but a signal that a population has overshot what [Egger] calls the economic 'sweet spot'.  He suggests that economic growth, in its early stages, drove improvements in our standard of living and in longevity, but it is now having an increasingly negative effect .... Americans have overshot the sweet spot for health.  At that point, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, tetanus and measles have become much less common, and the big killers have become chronic ailments like heart disease, cancers, and the classic fat disease, type 2 diabetes.  The same pattern has started to emerge in Brazil, Russia, India, and China.  This fatness, he says, is a sign of economic excess."
While I maintain that on the individual level, personal discipline and choice remain key to a healthy life, it seems reasonable that the temptation to overeat ~ or to eat unhealthy junk food ~ is greater in developed economies.  It's hard to argue with the fact that people weigh less in impoverished nations, and weigh more in prosperous nations.  

It's also true that one's location on the globe helps determine one's weight and health, no matter how prosperous the country.  Residents of Asian nations are generally much more slender than residents of Europe and the U.S.  (see above image, click to enlarge.)

I confess to a degree of bias against fat people.  From a health standpoint, it is ludicrous to try to justify one's self-indulgence with phrases like "big and beautiful".  More like, "big and a drain on the health care system".  I've seen people so rotund that they take up two or even three seats on a bus, in a theater, on an airplane ~ and proceed to feed their faces with snacks.  I'm sorry, but if you're feeding enough body mass for two or more slender people, you really need to rethink your priorities.  What give you the right to consume such quantities of food in a world where people are dying of famine?  Think about it.

Here is an excellent resource for deciding whether you are within your fitness range ~ a weight and height chart broken down by gender, with a tool for determining your body mass index.  Simply look under the column of your gender for your height, and you'll find the weight range considered acceptable for fitness.  Generally speaking, the lower within that range your weight falls, the better your health ~ toned and muscular people will be toward the upper part of the range, less toned but slender people will be toward the lower end of the range.

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