Planet Obesity

Planet Obesity

Planet Obesity

How we're eating ourselves and the planet to death.

Obesity is not a disease but a signal. It's the canary in the coalmine, which should alert us to bigger structural problems in society.

There are a number of areas where humans have achieved a peak of success, but now that very success is turning on us and threatening to unravel centuries of achievement. On the one hand, economic growth has over centuries led to a steadily improving standard of living, better levels of health and ever increasing life spans. On the other hand, this very affluence is the reason that both our bodies and the planet have gone into a downward spiral, manifested by an ever growing epidemic of obesity in humans, and in a world clogged by greenhouse gasses and waste.

Professors Garry Egger and Boyd Swinburn, who have been at the forefront of health obesity study for over three decades, implore us to address the correlation between a bloated planet and a bloated body, to change the way we fundamentally think about them and to consider a new, real solution to the potentially disastrous consequences of ignoring the health of either. Each is the only one we have.

Garry Egger is one of Australia's best known health educators, in 1991 he established the Gutbuster program, the first 'waist loss' program of its type.

Boyd Swinburn is the Alfred Deakin Professor of Population Health and Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University in Melbourne.

Planet Obesity
Allen and Unwin
Author: Garry Egger and Boyd Swinburn
ISBN: 9781742373621
Price: $22.99

Interview with Garry Egger

How are we eating ourselves and the planet to death?

Garry Egger: Basically, what we are saying is that consumption is the byword for the modern economy and that we have to consume for the economy to continue to grow. What that means simply is that by over consuming food and other goods that are making us fat, the world is getting fatter and fatter.

I have just come back from the World Obesity Conference, this is the fifth one I have attended in the last 20 years and we are seeing no improvements in obesity throughout the world, it is just getting fatter and fatter.

What made you decide to write this book?

Garry Egger: I started the Gut-Busters program for men, it has been very successful for individual men, but I was concerned at the population level and how it continued to get fat. You can work with individual guys, at a clinical level, that can reduce weight but it's the population that continues to get fatter. I started to go back and look at what was the cause of the cause, you don't just look at the cause which is overeating and inactivity but to look at the cause, of the cause.

When you look at the cause of the cause you track it right back and it goes back to the part of economics that we live in, which is an environment of over consumption, basically.

How much research went into Planet Obesity?

Garry Egger: We spent a year on researching this book, but I have spent the last 20 years of my life leading up to this level and looking at obesity and the causes of obesity at the individual level and the population level. It is not a trivial amount of research that has gone into it.

What tips can you provide to Australians to help them live a healthier lifestyle?

Garry Egger: This is outlined in the last chapter of the book. We have pointed out three things that people can do and three things that the government can do. The three things that people can do are:
One general idea approach is to live a low-carbon lifestyle. If you are living a low-carbon lifestyle, it means you are not only helping the environment but you are helping yourself, individually. In other words, if you look to what it is that you're eating and what it is that you're doing, in terms of transport, you are going to have a low-carbon footprint. That low-carbon footprint means that you are also burning lots of energy which means you won't get fat.
The other is related to decreasing your food intake and the last is increasing your energy expenditure. We need to reduce our intake of processed foods and eat less imported foods; that have a high-carbon footprint as well. By reducing processed foods, if you just do that, it changes the glycemic index of the food that you eat, so it is going to be healthier.

On the energy expenditure side, we have just said simply take the first national activity guideline; think of movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience. If you do this; every time you are about to drive to the shop, you walk; or, every time you're about to get on the escalator you take the stairs instead- this walk will contribute significantly to the amount of energy that you would burn up and therefore help reduce your body weight.

The third thing that we have said in terms of food intake is to reduce the total volume of food; it is a little bit complicated but the actual volume of food means the calories that you take in. That falls down to three things;
the energy density of the food x the portion size x the frequency of eating.
Energy density is the number of calories per gram. You can have a small piece of food, for example; a piece of chocolate. A piece of chocolate has a lot of calories; it is a high energy density. Just buy reducing the energy density that is going to charge the health of the diet, anyways. It means you are eating more food, with fewer calories.

What tips for the government are in Planet Obesity?

Garry Egger: There is a number of different quite radical approaches that government could do, probably the biggest would be to reduce obesity in children by cutting out advertising of junk food in prime-time television. The government has been given these reports, that say this, for years and years and they have done nothing about it. Whilst that should happen, it probably won't happen.

One of the other things the government can do is increase the opportunities were walkers and cyclists have right away. This already happens in European cities, but it doesn't happen here, the car is the king in Australia. Particularly in cities, there are lots of opportunities where cyclists and walkers should have right away over motorists.

At the moment we are testing our third suggestion; that is to look at introducing a scheme of personal carbon trading; not corporate carbon trading where the company has to pay extra for the carbon costs, but where an individual is given a carbon card The carbon card has a number of carbon units on it and every time they pay their electricity or petrol, they are not only paying money, it comes off their card in units, that they are given. Now, this means if you don't drive your car and you walk a lot and you don't use a lot of energy you can cash your units in at the end of a set period and get money back, for it. If you burn up a lot of energy and you drive big cars and you have big houses on where you leave all the lights on, all the time, then you have to buy extra carbon units. As the units go down, each year, the product goes up which means you are subsisting the people that are better with their low-carbon footprint. This way we can level out the system a little bit more.


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