Media Advisory: Yale Expert Urges Caution on Obesity and Climate Change Link

In response to a Lancet Journal letter suggesting that obese people are significantly contributing to world oil demands and global food scarcity, Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, cautioned that the data are interesting, but how they are framed will make a big difference.

“Saying that obese people are contributing to climate change is highly stigmatizing and assigns blame to the individuals who are obese rather than the conditions driving the obesity in the first place,” said Brownell.

As an example, he notes, “Children are overwhelmed by food marketing for nutrient-poor, calorie-dense foods, have junk foods marketed to them in schools, have physical education subtracted from their curriculum, and are exposed to record portion sizes. Should we be pointing the finger at obese children and their families, or focusing on the conditions creating the problem? Which of these two approaches is likely to lead down a more productive road?”

The letter, published in the next issue of the medical journal the Lancet by British researchers Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, states that obese persons use 18 percent more food energy than thinner persons, which in turn leads to a greater global demand for food.

“The Lancet letter raises interesting questions about the connections between our toxic food culture and the environment,” said Brownell. “But suggesting that obese or overweight people are a burden on the environment may only fuel existing, widespread stigma. The social issue of obesity should be the focus, not the inferred personal failings of obese people.”

For media inquiries, please contact:

Kelly D. Brownell, Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
Cell phone: 203-988-6303.

Rebecca M. Puhl, Director of Research and Anti-Stigma Initiatives for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.
Phone: 203-432-7354.

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Media Contact

Bill Hathaway: william.hathaway@yale.edu, 203-432-1322