As if having to endure public ridicule and self-reproach weren’t enough, now the obese population is being blamed for one of our planet’s most harrowing crises—global warming. The New York Times recently reported that in an issue of The Engineering Economist, researchers calculated the extra gasoline costs use to transport our growing nation, to the tune of a billion gallons per year. Similar research regarding airline fuel use was published a year earlier in The American Journal of Public Health, which suggested that the extra 10 pounds Americans now schlep around is responsible for 350 million gallons of fuel, resulting in significant increases in environmental carbon dioxide.
So, does the drama of global warming tip the scales to the point where the obese population will finally have an a-ha moment, the personal turning point, when sudden insight leads to miraculous weight-loss? Not really. As the Times reporter Gina Kolata notes, “It’s not that the obese don’t care. Instead, as science has shown over and over, they have limited personal control over their weight. Genes play a significant role, the science says.” And, we know what typically happens when we raise the stakes in the obesity game—those stigmatized, blamed for their personal (and now environmental and sociopolitical) ills and compelled to lose weight will actually. . . eat more. It’s akin to yelling at a stuttering child. What do we think is going to happen?
So far, scholars are also not taking bait. In the Times article, Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale says, “‘People are out scouring the landscape for things that make obese people look bad.’” Katherine Flegal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a tonge-in-cheek response: “‘Yes, obesity is to blame for all the evils of modern life, except somehow, weirdly, it is not killing people enough. . . . In fact, that’s why there are all these fat people around. They just won’t die.’”