To mark Earth Day last week, a team of researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine released a new study showing a link between the obesity epidemic and the long-term challenge of global warming.
Because food production is a major contributor to global warming, a population at a healthy weight will produce fewer greenhouse gases than an overweight or obese population. In addition, transportation-related emissions would also be lower, as it takes less energy to transport less weight.
As a result, the researchers calculated that if 1 billion overweight or obese people reached healthy weights, carbon dioxide emissions would decrease by 1,000 million tons.
These researchers weren’t the only ones making the comparison between obesity and climate change. At a State Department celebration of Earth Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared the daunting prospect of decreasing global warming to losing weight, noting “It’s kind of like trying to lose weight – which I know something about. Where you think, you know, ‘Oh, I only have to lose X number of pounds.’ But it can seem like such a faraway goal.”
Secretary Clinton frames the problem exactly. “It can seem like such a faraway goal.” And earlier this month, researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong published a study that provides the solution: Our ability to solve long-term problems like weight loss and global warming hinges on our capacity to stay focused on the long-term goal itself, rather than becoming distracted by the immediate situation or obstacle.
The researchers found that participants showed less self-control on health tasks when they focused on their immediate situations. In contrast, when they looked to the future, really focusing on the benefits of long-term goals, they exerted self-control and were not affected by being tired or depleted. (This was true even when participants were asked to read long medical articles.)
Now that we know the necessary approach to solve problems, let’s evaluate the capacity of our elected representatives (Secretary Clinton’s former colleagues) to address long-term challenges like global warming by looking at their own personal approach to weight control. Which of these representatives and senators are likely to be more effective problem solvers?
The following segments are excerpted from an article published on Politico.com titled “Members Battle the Bulge.”
“I wish I didn’t have the five-minute rule. And I wish we didn’t have so many members. And I wish I could lose weight without dieting.”
– Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), House Financial Services Committee Chairman
Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) hops on the treadmill for 30 minutes every night in the Senate gym, takes a brief bike ride and does upper body strength training sometimes. His busy days rarely leave him an opening before 8 p.m. Yet, he’s focused on the health benefits of achieving a healthier weight and that puts his weight controlling efforts high on his list of priorities every day.
Representative Phil Hare (D-Illinois) lost 40 pounds in the 90-plus days since President Obama’s inauguration. His wake-up call came when he experimented by carrying around three 16-pound bowling balls to measure how much extra weight he was carrying. His suits have already been taken in once, and he’s headed toward a second fitting after losing 6 inches off his waist. He says the demands on his time require that carefully schedule every day, including what he has come to call a mandatory one-hour gym session each day. “I just love food,” said Hare, who admits he used to take full advantage of the Longworth cafeteria dessert line. “When I used to get pizza, I thought you were supposed to eat the whole thing. Now when I go to Longworth in the morning, I’ll have coffee and fruit. And when I see people coming out with trays, I just don’t look at them,” he said, laughing.