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Action on climate change may also help our obesity problem

Malcolm Turnbull drew upon several health and medical analogies in his recent, widely-reported speech on climate change, in which he urged respect for science, and called for action to prevent the “enormous injustice” facing the world’s poorest people.

“… the people in the world who will suffer the most cruelly will be the poorest and the people who have contributed the least to the problem,” he said.

Turnbull’s health references included:

• Ignoring the science of climate change is like “ignoring the advice of your doctor to give up smoking and lose 10 kilos on the basis that somebody down the pub told you their uncle Ernie ate three pies a day and smoked a packet of cigarettes and lived to 95.  Now that is how stupid it is and we have to get real about supporting and responsibly accepting the science.”

• “Would you allow yourself, your own body to be operated on by some medical theory that you picked up on the website or would you seek to get the most highly respected specialist in the field to operate on you?  We all know what the answer is.  That’s what we do with our own bodies.  What we’re talking about now is the future and the health of the planet.”

• “Some people would say, I trust that most would not, that as we have a vested interest in coal being burned, we should oppose action on climate change and, rather like the tobacco companies who sought to discredit the connection between smoking and lung cancer, muddy the waters on climate science in order to prolong the export billions from coal mining.”

Meanwhile, a health focus on climate change will also be on the agenda of a weekend workshop in Melbourne this weekend, that is being put on by the Green Institute.

Melanie Lowe, one of a number of health professionals on the program, writes below about some shared ground between obesity and climate change.

•••

What do climate change and obesity have in common?

Melanie Lowe writes:

Obesity and climate change are two of the greatest public health challenges facing Australia.

Over 60 percent of adults and 25 percent of children are overweight or obese, with high body mass being a major risk factor for conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

At the same time, the health effects of climate change are predicted to be extensive. These include increased illness and mortality from severe heat waves and other extreme weather events, an increase in allergenic pollens and the range and seasonality of mosquito-born infections such as dengue fever, fresh water and food shortages and increased rates of food and water-borne disease.

Whilst obesity and climate change may appear to be unrelated, there is a growing recognition that these are actually closely connected problems, having some shared causes and solutions.

There are three shared determinants of obesity and climate change.

The first is society’s dependence on emissions-intensive technologies which reduce human effort. Cars, computers, television and domestic labour-saving devices contribute to sedentary lifestyles by reducing energy expenditure during travel, work, domestic tasks and leisure time. Such devices are also major sources of green-house gas (GHG) emissions as they are powered by fossil fuels.

Second, today’s industrial food system increases consumption of foods that are both unhealthy and emissions-intensive. The production of all food entails some GHG emissions. However, the most fattening foods, such as animal products and highly-processed, energy-dense foods are also the most emissions-intensive.

The third shared cause of obesity and climate change is the over-emphasis on economic growth within the global economic system. The resulting requirement for ever-increasing production and consumption drives the over-consumption of food and technology which results in weight gain and GHG emissions.

By targeting these shared causes, obesity and climate change can be tackled simultaneously. Policies with potential co-benefits fit within three broad categories.

The first of these comprises strategies to replace the use of emissions-intensive, effort-saving devices with physical activity.

Replacing car use with active transport such as walking, cycling or pubic transport is arguably the most promising policy lever. Active transport options should be made more attractive, for instance by investing in cycling and public transport infrastructure, and improving urban design. At the same time driving should be made less attractive, for example by introducing congestion charges in cities, increasing the fuel excise and reducing car parking spaces.

Second, a range of policies could improve diets whilst simultaneously reducing emissions from the food system. For example, governments could regulate the marketing of energy-dense, highly-processed foods, subsidise healthy, low-emissions food and tax unhealthy food, introduce mandatory labelling of food products based on their health and environmental impacts, and encourage urban agriculture.

Third, a range of macroeconomic reforms could improve technology use and the food system, as well as reduce GHG emissions from the broader economy. Economic growth needs to be de-emphasised as a policy objective, and working hours and income inequality within society should be reduced in order to slow the treadmill of production and consumption.

Policies such as the recently-proposed carbon tax or regulation of GHG emissions also have the potential to reduce consumption of emissions-intensive and obesity-causing technologies and foodstuffs by making them less affordable relative to healthy, low-emissions options.

Given the complexity of both problems, implementing any single policy in isolation is unlikely to deliver sufficient change. Instead, a range of complementary interventions across multiple sectors is required. This approach could have significant benefits for the environment as well as two of our biggest public health challenges.

By integrating public health and environmental agendas, these policies may hold the key to achieving effective action on climate change and obesity in Australia.

Comments 3

  1. Frank Campbell says:

    What a coincidence. Climate change linked to obesity- only last week I obtained a leaked copy of Julia Gillard’s forthcoming address to the Nat. Press Club (15th August)…The PM is well ahead of Melanie Lowe:

    Australians have had a long and difficult conversation about pricing carbon. I believe this conversation was necessary if Australians are to move forward to a clean, green energy future and prevent dangerous climate change. I understand that many Australians have been worried and anxious about how this great reform will affect their lives. But we can now move forward because the Government has put in place generous compensation to protect Australian working famlies while making big polluters pay. Australians now know that they will be better off with a carbon price. My government is all about jobs for Australians. Australia must transition from dirty polluting industry to the industry of the future, creating thousands of clean, green jobs. I was in the great state of South Australia recently, visiting the great steel city of Whyalla. I can announce today that my government will spend $16 billion to build the world’s largest windfarm at Whyalla. This will power Whyalla’s steel plant with clean renewable energy. I also visited a coal mine in the great state of Queensland. I told those Queensland famlies their jobs were safe, that my government was all about jobs. I told them that the coal industry had a fantastic future.
    Australians can now move forward to address the second great moral challenge of our time- a challenge which threatens the health and happiness of all Australians, a challenge which fills the beds of our great hospitals, a challenge which causes many diseases and premature death. This great challenge is obesity. My government will immediately introduce legislation to put a price on fat. In three years this will be replaced with a Fat Trading Scheme. The FTS will enable the market to determine fat prices. Fat credits may be purchased overseas to offset the fat emissions of our great dairy industry and other fat-intensive industries. Foods with no fat content will be exempt from tax. There will be a sliding scale of $1 per gram for low fat content foods, rising to $10 per gram for foods with the highest fat content. Ice-cream, now known as Frozen Fat, will attract a price of $12 per gram of dangerous fat.
    My government is all about jobs, and we will take steps moving forward to protect fat-intensive industries. Polls show 97% of Australians want to reduce their weight. Australia cannot wait while the rest of the world takes action on the dangerous fat epidemic. Australians are being left behind. Australians are a confident people. We are not afraid of the future. Oh, I know the Opposition will deny Australians the right to be free from fat. Negativity is Mr. Abbott’s middle name. And I know the big fat producers will campaign for fat, just like big tobacco companies did. But Australians know that the dangerous fat epidemic must be addressed.
    I know some Australians will be worried and anxious about their jobs as we move forward to put a price on fat. But pricing fat will create thousands of jobs in new fat-free industries. Just yesterday I visited the largest carrot farm in the Southern Hemisphere. They are planning to double production, with the assistance of my Government’s Vegetable Expansion Scheme.
    I will be visiting with Australians every day, wearing out my shoe leather, to have the conversation we need about creating the lean, healthy Australia of the future.

  2. Shooba says:

    Melanie, that is a long bow to draw.

    Once again I would like to respectfully register my objection to climate change being centre-of-attention on Croakey. This is a health blog. Climate change has an impact on everything, I get it. But I could just as easily argue that more people walking to work will lead to a rise in rubber needed in Australia; as people will go through shoes more frequently there will be a rise in the number of running shoes imported from coal-dependant China. These selfish walkers will also undoubtedly drink bottled water, which is counter-intuitively disasterous for the environment. And when they arrive to work they will munch on their “low-emission” lettuce sandwich, grown using fertiliser from naughty farting cows. All of a sudden the debate about health is muddied as the pro- and anti- AGW nutters go to town on each other.

    Can’t we have one area of Crikey not dominated by climate change?

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co-payments
Cochrane Collaboration
complementary medicines
conflicts of interest
death and dying
diabetes
digital technology
disabilities
e-health
emergency departments and care
Equally Well
euthanasia
evidence-based issues
general practice
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Health Care Homes
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health reform
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HIV/AIDS
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HRT
infectious diseases
influenza
international medical graduates
journal articles
LGBTIQ
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Medicare Locals
men's health
mental health
MyHospitals website
National Commission of Audit 2014
National Health Performance Authority
naturopathy
NDIS
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non communicable diseases
nurses and nursing
oral health
organ transplants
out of pocket costs
pain
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paramedics
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Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
pharmaceutical industry
pharmacy
Pregnancy and childbirth
primary health care
Primary Health Networks
private health insurance
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rural and remote health
screening
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suicide
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swine flu
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TGA
trauma
women's health
youth health
Indigenous health
#CTG10
#NTRC
Acknowledgement
cultural safety
Indigenous education
Lowitja Institute
NT Intervention
social and emotional wellbeing
Uluru Statement
WA community closures
News about Croakey
PIJ Commissions 2021
Public health and population health
#PreventiveHealthStrategy
#UnmetNeedsinPublicHealth
air pollution
alcohol
consumer health matters
COVIDwrap
environmental health
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
food and nutrition
gambling
Government 2.0
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Health in All Policies
health inequalities
health literacy
human rights
illicit drugs
injuries
legal issues
marriage equality
Media Doctor Australia
media-related issues
nanny state
National Preventive Health Agency
obesity
occupational health
physical activity
plain packaging
prevention
public health
public interest journalism
road safety
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Web 2.0
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Royal Commission
Social determinants of health
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education
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Justice Reinvestment
NBN
Newstart
poverty
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Summer reading 2020-2021
Tasmanian election 2021
Testing Croakey News category 1
The Croakey Archives
#cripcroakey
#HealthEquity16
#HealthMatters
#IHMayDay (all years)
#IHMayDay 2014
#IHMayDay15
#IHMayday16
#IHMayDay17
#IHMayDay18
#LoveRural 2014
Croakey Conference News Service 2013 – 2019
2013 conferences
Australian Centre for Health Services Innovation Forum 2013
Australian Health Promotion Association Conference 2013
Closing the Credibility Gap 2013
CRANAplus Conference 2013
FASD Conference 2013
Health Workforce Australia 2013
International Health Literacy Network Conference 2013
NACCHO Summit 2013
National Rural Health Conference 2013
Oceania EcoHealth Symposium 2013
PHAA conference 2013
2014 conferences
#IPCHIV14
AIDA Conference 2014
Congress Lowitja 2014
CRANAplus conference 2014
Cultural Solutions - Healing Foundation forum 2014
Lowitja Institute Continuous Quality Improvement conference 2014
National Suicide Prevention Conference 2014
Racism and children/youth health symposium 2014
Rural & Remote Health Scientific Symposium 2014
2015 conferences
#CPHCEforum
#CRANAplus15
#HSR15
#NRHC15
#OTCC15
Population Health Congress 2015
2016 conferences
#AHHAsim16
#AHMRC16
#ANROWS2016
#ATSISPEP
#AusCanIndigenousWellness
#cphce2016
#CPHCEforum16
#CRANAplus2016
#IAMRA2016
#LowitjaConf2016