January is in full swing and millions of people are piling into gyms and counting calories to meet their new year’s resolution of losing weight. Now, we all know that losing excess weight brings with it better health and a snazzier swimsuit body, but what does it mean for energy use?
Hannon and Lohman explored just that question in their 1978 study The Energy Cost of Overweight in the United States. They calculated how much energy would be saved if every overweight and obese adult in America dieted to get down to an optimum body weight; since eating fewer calories means less energy needed to “plant, cultivate, harvest, feed, process, transport, wholesale, retail, acquire, store, and cook” the food. The detailed analysis found that such a diet would save the country the equivalent of 1.3 billion gallons of gasoline – not to mention significant annual savings thereafter to account for metabolism reduction.
But, of course, the country didn’t lose all of its excess weight in 1978. In fact, in the 30 years since this study came out, the number of Americans falling into the overweight or obese categories increased nearly 40% to over two-thirds of the population. We now collectively need to lose about 6 billion pounds! With a quick estimate to update the numbers that Hannon and Lohman used, putting the United States on a diet today would probably save closer to the equivalent of 3.4 billion gallons of gasoline. Enough to take you the distance to the sun and back about, oh, 500 times in the average car.
So, put down those french fries and pick up some carrot sticks – your heart and the planet will thank you!