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British men 3'3" tall would meet UK carbon pledges

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British people must become Hobbits to meet the government's carbon pledge

So no, we're not necessarily "getting fatter". But no doubt about it, we in the UK - as Messrs Roberts and Edwards suggest - are getting heavier. Or anyway, those of us who are to be found in the house with time on our hands when the government health surveyors come calling (methodology pdf) are getting heavier. ("Response varied by region ... Household response was highest in the North East and East Midlands regions and was lowest in the London region", apparently. But "weighting should reduce non-response bias". In 2003, the government's adjustment for the fact that on the whole it would be the fatties who were found at home in the daytime was just 300 grams.)

And we fat/heavy Brits eat more food than people do in Vietnam, that's true. But we aren't just fatter and heavier than Vietnamese people - we're taller too. Le Nguyen Bao Khanh of the Vietnamese School and Work Nutrition Department says that Vietnamese youngsters tend to stop growing early due to malnutrition, and "many are dwarfish". The Vietnamese government, indeed, are embarking on a national programme intended to raise the average male height to 5'5" from its current 5'4".

Average UK men, by contrast, stand four inches taller than Vietnamese ones do. If they were as lean as their Far Eastern counterparts - were simply enlarged scale copies of them, with the same physique - one would still expect Brits to weigh 25 per cent more, consume extra food on similar lines, and burn more transport fuel to move their larger (but still lean) bodies about.

Getting slimmer, then, isn't going to cut our food consumption by 20 per cent to Vietnamese levels. Nor is it going to reduce our use of transport fuel in any serious way. We'll also have to get shorter by four or five inches if the profs' recommendations are to be followed. But that will be achievable, as a Vietnamese diet means widespread, severe child malnutrition and stunted growth.

But hey - we'd reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by a tonne/CO2 per head! That's worth doing!

Well, maybe. Us Brits emit almost ten tonnes per head a year, though. In order to meet the government's stated goals, much more serious efforts would be required: we'd have to halve the British population and shrink the average UK male to a height of 3'3" to achieve Mr Miliband's 80 per cent pledge, according to our calculations*. That's about the average height of a Hobbit, if we've recalled our Tolkien correctly.

If the entire developing world agrees merely to stay malnourished on the less radical Vietnam plan (and we Westerners join them) but in other respects everyone gets to live a western-style life, with mobility and industry and babies and stuff, greenhouse gas emissions are still going through the roof.

Merely shrinking ourselves, it seems, isn't going to save the planet. And volunteers to starve their babies into carbon righteousness are probably going to be scarce anyway.

Perhaps some other plan might be in order.

Subscribers to the International Journal of Epidemiology can read the research here. ®

Bootnotes

*The UK population needs to achieve 8 times the carbon savings suggested in the study to meet current government targets: thus they must lose 8 times as much weight, which would require vanishing altogether and then some. If numbers are cut by half, however, each person needs to lose only 80 per cent of their body volume. This equates to reducing all physical dimensions by 40 per cent, eg average UK men should become approximately 3'3". Alternatively, you might say that each remaining person needs to lose 60 per cent of volume, so that men would come out at 4'2" - more in the dwarf league.

Full Disclosure: Lewis Page is 6'3" and weighs 16 stone (BMI = "overweight"). It only gets worse the more phys he does. This whole article is basically an attempt to deal with his terrible body-image problem.

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