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Effect of climate change on overweight individuals

9. Okt. 2023

The latest WHO report on excess weight in Europe shows that the proportion of the population that is overweight has been increasing for 40 years. Almost 60 percent of adults in Europe are at least overweight, if not obese. How will this trend continue? Climate will also have an impact on population weight, and it doesn't look good.

The epidemic of obesity

For 40 years, the proportion of the population that is overweight has increased continuously. It does not matter which gender the persons belong to and even children are more and more affected by excess weight.

Being overweight increases the risk of many diseases, such as some cancers, but also type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, joint diseases and asthma. For the health of the population, this trend is clearly not a positive development.

According to the WHO report, the obesity epidemic will lead to 1.2 million more deaths in Europe alone. The growth in the percentage of the overweight population continues worldwide.

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Is climate change making us even fatter?

The effect of increased weight on the consumption of resources is also being discussed in the scientific community. Thus, excess weight would have an effect on climate change. For example, the effect of excess weight on carbon emissions has been studied. Scientists model the resource consumption of a population of one billion people. They conclude that a slim population emits one billion tons of CO₂ less per year, in contrast to a population with more weight.

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Like many things in complex systems, however, interrelationships are not one-sided. There are interactions, and even with climate, there can be effects on excess weight. For example, increased ambient temperature could cause people to move less.

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If extreme weather events occur more frequently, this ultimately leads to increased prices for fruits and vegetables. These increased prices then lead to the consumption of more processed foods that are high in sugar and fat, as well as preservatives, coloring, and flavor enhancers.

Consumption of processed foods has already been linked to excess weight and other health risks. Lower-income households in particular would be greatly affected by this problem, as they would not be able to afford the increased cost of healthy foods.

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In addition, extreme weather such as droughts and floods are associated with mental health effects. These events lead to increased incidence of anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. If these disorders persist over a long period of time, this can also lead to an increase in body weight.

The effects of climate change on our society and individual health are a threat on many fronts. Healthy and sustainable foods like fruits and vegetables rarely have the opportunity for a large marketing budget and are therefore already neglected in our system. This issue can have a negative impact on our collective health. The trend of being overweight in our population is increasing, and with climate change, this trend could become even worse. In this regard, people should be allowed to feel good in their bodies, but this is a problem we need to address together as a system so that everyone can live healthy lives.


Global warming and obesity: a systematic review - PubMed
How are Obesity and Climate Change Linked? | Earth.Org - Past | Present | Future
WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022
Klima: Übergewicht schadet der Umwelt
Ultra-processed products are becoming dominant in the global food system
Does depression cause obesity?: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies of depression and weight control - PubMed
Depression, Anxiety Linked to Weight Gain


Tillmann Stickler

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