America is a nation of animal lovers, observed Michael Greger, director of public health and animal agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.3 Seventy million people are active wildlife watchers, and Americans own 160 million dogs and cats. This bond between animals and people can be a powerful force for fighting obesity in the United States, Greger said.
An obvious example is dog walking. Cross-sectional data suggest that dog walking is associated with meeting physical activity guidelines (Hoerster et al., 2011). People feel a sense of obligation toward their dogs’ physical and mental well-being, said Greger, which provides them with a sense of purpose and motivation. Alluding to the concept of “stealth interventions” (see Chapter 1), Greger noted, “This altruistic urge provides a kind of stealth motivation to effect behavioral change.” Yet, one-third of dog owners do not walk their dogs, so this can be a target for promoting physical activity for tens of millions of people. In this way, Greger explained, a better energy balance can be an unintended yet beneficial side effect of advocacy for animal well-being.
The Meatless Monday campaign,4 a public health initiative aimed at reducing the risk of chronic disease, including obesity, offers another example of how a bond with animals can be linked to obesity prevention. The latest ad for the campaign does not show someone lying on a gurney with crushing chest pain. Rather, it shows mistreated farm animals. The gaze of a crated sow biting the bars of her cage bloody after months of confinement “may provide transcendent, emotionally charged motivation” that may have long-lasting impact, said Greger.
In general, media attention to animal welfare has significant negative effects on U.S. meat demand (Tonsor and Olynk, 2011), Greger observed. For example, when the media covered the use of food from animals that were too sick or injured to walk, the consumption of meat fell, and regulations were passed to force farmers to take better care of their animals. Furthermore, the consumption of all meat fell, not just the meat highlighted in the story (Tonsor and Olynk, 2011; Wald, 2008). “Just as human health concerns ended up furthering animal welfare goals, animal welfare concerns can end up furthering human health by decreasing meat consumption,” said Greger.
Exposure to images of the plight of farm animals also may affect the eating habits of youth, Greger continued. For example, the National Pork