Energy Equivalence

Two things that seem to be in the headlines of late: oil prices and overweight Americans. How do these things go together? Time for a fun "back of the envelope" calculation.

According to the CDC about two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese (a BMI over 25 tags you as overweight while a BMI over 30 defines obese). Currently, nearly a third of US adults are obese. If we ignore the obese children for a moment (and that's getting harder and harder to do), that means there's somewhere around 165 million Americans who are at least overweight. Let's be really generous (kind of like current trends in clothing), and assume that the average individual in this group is 15 pounds overweight. That's about what you get for a person 5'10" tall with a BMI of 27. I suspect the average is far more, but this is good enough for our quick-and-dirty calculation. If we multiply the number of adults by the average excess poundage, and assuming that each pound is indeed fat with an energy content of about 3500 kcals per pound, and convert the total to kilojoules, we wind up with around 3.7E13 kjoules total excess energy stored in the bodies of American citizens.

Here's the fun part. A barrel of crude oil contains about 6.1E6 kjoules. Further, we import about 1.5 million barrels of crude per day from Saudi Arabia (our second largest source, Canada being first at about 2 million). If you put these together and assuming we could transform all of the excess weight hanging from our collective bodies into a useful form, we'd have about four days worth of crude imports from the Saudis. The really fun part is that, depending on how you look at it, it shows not only how fat we are as a nation, but also, just how huge is our appetite for petroleum.

More like this

The current recommendations from major health organizations stipulate that if an individual has a BMI in the obese range (>30 kg/m2), they should be counseled to lose at least 5-10% of their body weight. This advice appears to make some sense given that increasing body weight is generally…
BMI or Body Mass Index is a measure of obesity that is used to approximate the health problems associated with being overweight. It is really easy to calculate. The formula for it is weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Here are some calculators for those of your reluctant to…
Why the Washington Post decided to devote space to libertarian crankery from the Pacific Research Institute, I'll never know, but today's op-ed from Sally Pipes on the evils of governmental interference in diet is a bit much. The way I see it, obesity cranks recycle 3 arguments over and over. It…
There is a great conversation going on at Megan McArdle's blog with Paul Campos, author of The Obesity Myth. I say great because it give me the opportunity to show how astonishingly wrong Campos in suggesting that the obesity at the lower end of the BMI spectrum -- not just morbid obesity -- is…

So ... are you suggesting we flense the obese, render the fat to oil, and burn that?

If we ignore the obese children for a moment (and that's getting harder and harder to do)

No kidding. They make it impossible to get to the sundae bar at Golden Corral.

So ... are you suggesting we flense the obese, render the fat to oil, and burn that?

Well, that might be a bit far afield, but perhaps we could reprocess the results of liposuction surgery and give each patient a nice canister of their very own bio-diesel when they check out.

"So ... are you suggesting we flense the obese, render the fat to oil, and burn that?"


Actually, Chuck Palahniuk covered a very nice use for the liposuction biowaste in Fight Club. Of course, overpriced soap is ANOTHER example of our conspicuous consumption, so perhaps fuel would be more efficient.

Though less profitable ;)

The lesson I get is that all that fat isn't worth the price that was paid for it. Or that it is not worth four bucks a gallon in a pumpable form.

Energy is in the ground and will be for a while. Enough to assuage our apatite while we discover how to make other sources immanently practical.

If you're going to make an omelet . . .

By Crudely Wrott (not verified) on 24 Jun 2008 #permalink

I'll start the campaign:
Convince your fat neighbors to let you ride them to the store! Energy independence now!

By mxracer652 (not verified) on 25 Jun 2008 #permalink

I am fat, and take public transportation. I often look at the other passengers and myself,and think "if everyone on this bus lost 20 pounds, we could fit ten more people on." More fuel efficiency!