Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Fatties cause global warming"

Thus ran a headline in the Sun today, a UK newspaper that combines the brevity of USA Today and the inanity of the National Inquirer. So why am I reporting on this silliness? Because other more reputable resources are also reporting on a new paper released in the International Journal of Epidemiology this week.

The actual title, for those who want to get your free copy from the Journal, is "Population adiposity and climate change." This is not a study, so I won't call it one. It is a theoretical analysis.

What this theoretical analysis is analyzing is how fat people have increased the amount of greenhouse gasses due to our insatiable hunger and inability to walk comfortably (and therefore our increased reliance on cars). In doing this it creates 2 hypothetical populations of around 1 billion people each. One has the approximate size diversity of the UK in 1970...the other has the approximate estimate of size diversity in the UK in 2010.

All things being equal, the papers authors posit, a fatter population will eat more and drive cars more. They will cause us to produce more food and use more fuel. Which, of course, has raised the green house emissions and caused climate change...or if it has not caused it, it is certainly a "problem" now. I quote: "We argue that increased population adiposity, because of its contribution to climate change from additional food and transport GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, should be recognized as an environmental problem."

Where to begin? First to say, this is a sad trope that has been beaten to death, and using big words and complicated math and epidemiologic theories is not going to make this more tired.

Second, there is in no way that these hypothetical populations are equivalent to distributions of size diversity, resource availability, or energy expenditure on a global scale. In other words, the ability to generalize this information to reality is severely a similar way in which the ability to generalize Star Trek to our current reality is severely limited.

Third, the assumptions about the energy consumption and expenditure of "normal," overweight, and obese populations are just that: assumptions....and you know what you say when you assume something. Seriously, though, there are no good scientific measures that consistently show what the average consumption is for someone or it's relationship to energy output. Yes, we know about the calorie, but that assumes a static system in every living person in the population. One thing we should be able to acknowledge is that no individuals system is exactly the same as another.

Fourth, no account (either in change of energy expenditure or in difference of transportation patterns) was made for the changing aspects of the types of neighborhoods these 2 different theoretical populations would have lived in. These people assume that the average person spends 30 minutes driving each day. Where the fuck, I wonder, do these people live? Anyone who lives in the suburbs and commutes in to work knows that a 15 minute drive each way is something of a miracle. Even if you live close, you may have children that need transport or a parent in need of care and moving around.

Fifth, think of the children! These authors didn't. Where are you finding a population of 1 billion that does not have some portion of that being children?

Sixth, how you can expect to have any epidemiological analysis of the effects of greenhouse gasses without acknowledging the doubling of our global population in that same amount of time is beyond me. Indeed, it seems completely unethical to do so.

These six problems are just the few that I've thought of in a few hours time. Given time, and perhaps someone who could interpret the analysis into actual English for me, I could more than likely come up with more.

I am sick of the bashing today. I am sick knowing that people look at me and my friends and family and they believe that we, increasingly, are the enemy. I am sick of being blamed for processes that started on this planet long before our current generations were alive.

The last line in the Sun article is from their in-house medical consultant who warns that antagonizing the "fatties" may not help. Indeed, antagonizing this fatty just makes her madder and madder...which doesn't make her skinnier, but it does make her friends in blogland that much better informed. So keep up the fat baiting and start to ponder how dangerous big mammals are when they get mad!


red said...

And war! Fat people cause war as well!

Also my kitchen lightbulb has gone, even though I changed it two days ago. Fat people, it's your fault!

Oh for god's sake, what a load of bollocks.

Six of the ten biggest companies in the world are oil companies. Three are car firms. The heads of these companies are glued to profit. You only have to think about George Bush for a minute (I know, sorry) to see how tied into the power structure of the world these firms are. Now, if you really care about climate change, you might think about whether the power of these companies has anything to do with the incredible foot-dragging over switching to renewable sources of fuel and investing in decent affordable public transport to cut down on car use - one of the major contributors to climate change.

On the other hand, if you work for a UK university that gets money partly allocated on the basis of published research (I use the term loosely) and you want some instant publicity in the gutter press, you can ignore all this and jump on the "fat people are evil" bandwagon.

There's plenty more rant where that came from, but I'd better leave it...

Alecya Giovanni said...

That's enough to make me sick. Seriously. Can I add to the rant?

Skinny people. Did they forget about them? I drive just as much as a person twice my size, probably more. I eat just as much as a person twice my size, probably more. Does my consumption of our natural resources not count for anything? I work with a monkey load of hundred pound nothings and I've never seen more women put away more food and drive (separately) moer places in my life.

Other people I think cause global warming?

And if you're 17 - 24? They cause global warming too. Seriously. They don't have 9-5 jobs like the rest of us. This is the age of road tripping and driving to your buddies house and going out and partying all night. And have you seem people this age eat? Really? The amount of traffic the people that age in my town give to the pizza delivery guys is enough to destroy the ozone all on its own. I remember when I was 18 and on campus for one reason or another there was a big party going on in one of the fraternities. They had Four different pizza companies delivering food, and I know they ordered at leat a hundred pizzas.

And don't forget (and i know, i know this is just going to sound all sorts of racist so try and humnor me for not sounding terribly educated at the moment I just want to make a poorly worded point) How about Japan and China? Has anyone looked the the amount of crap they are spewing into the air? The amount of food and resources they are consuming? And how many of them do you think are overweight? Honestly. I know it sounds uneducated but I have never (outside of sumo) seen a picture of any person of eastern decent look like they are obese. Call me a redneck hick, but I haven't.

I don't think its fair Spinny. Looks like the fattys are getting all the credit.

Do you think we could do some research, figure out statistically whether or not being a woman causes global warming? I bet we could....

Queenie said...

I'm glad that headline hasn't slipped under the radar, as it was so outrageously offensive it even surpassed The Sun's usual standards.

Personally, I think size zero people are much more of a drain on resources, buying endless designer clothes and lipstick and laxatives. (Or some other equally idiotic logic-free rant.)

I didn't know about the journal study though. For crying out loud. How is this drivel given credence?! Excellent post, Spins.

Queenie said...

Oh, missed Alecya's last para. Yep, I read a mainstream media article a month or so ago about how women caused the house price bubble and consequent crash. After three readings, it became clear it wasn't satire. Wish I still had the link, but maybe better not to encourage the author with attention.

Aravis said...

I had heard about this, and was instantly outraged. My next thought was of you, and I had to chuckle because I knew you would have an excellent response. And you did!

I love you Spins, just the way you are.