Why your bulging tummy is a global sustainability agenda

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


This morning, I learnt something new about ‘somatic’ and ‘extra somatic energy’, thanks to Tony Capon, head, discipline of public health at the University of Canberra, Australia. And that its about time the fat in our (or at least mine) expanding tummy lines gets included in the global sustainability agenda.

Capon told a morning session on urban health and well being that the focus of the sustainability discourse so far has been on ‘extra somatic energy’, or energy produced outside our bodies. For example, electrical energy in power stations.

But look at the global obesity epidemic around you and there is something that can’t be missed. Capon says that all that food resting snugly as fat in our expanding waistlines, is also unused energy of another kind — ‘somatic energy’ to be more precise. “The global obesity epidemic is a problem with our somatic energy account — too much in, too little out,” Capon said.

“Get somatic energy on the (global sustainability) agenda,” Capon said. This would include diet and physical activity; as well as level of physical activity and how it is affected by urban transport systems.

“What we eat, and its relationship to the wider food system – from farm to fork – is important, he said.

“The global obesity epidemic is a sustainable development issue.”

Getting somatic energy on the sustainability agenda is one of Capon’s key recommendations at the session. Also, start a new narrative aligning concerns about human health with concerns about planetary health; and sending positive message about ‘co-benefits’ for health from action on climate change.

The others are to transcend disciplines to understand urban health and well-being, which also means going “beyond medical sovereignty of knowledge about health”; and finding alternate ways of understanding health, for example, by tapping into indigenous knowledge and human ecology concepts.

This blog post is part of our Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development blog which takes place 11-15 June 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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