Don’t get squeezed on your next flight!

By Chris Holbein

If the thought of trying to squeeze into last year’s swimsuit isn’t incentive enough to slim down before your summer vacation, here’s another reason to drop those unwanted pounds: Airline passengers with “extra baggage” may have to pay more.

This spring, United Airlines announced that passengers who cannot fit into a single seat will be required to pay an additional fare. A handful of other carriers, including Southwest Airlines, have similar policies. So much for the “friendly skies.”

But there is a simple way for frequent flyers to lose weight and avoid paying extra airfare: Stop being a “frequent eater” of meat. Studies show that vegetarians are, on average, about 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat-eaters are and that consuming animal products can make you pile on unhealthy weight.

While the size of airplane seats has remained basically the same over the years, our waistlines continue to expand. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1960, the weight of the average American has increased by 24 pounds.

A study published last year in the journal Obesity found that if current trends continue, nearly 90 percent of adults will be overweight or obese by the year 2030 and the number of overweight children will double. What’s more, one out of every six health-care dollars will be spent on costs related to our growing girth.

Going meat-free can make a difference. In a study of nearly 22,000 people, Oxford University researchers found that men who switch to a vegetarian diet are less likely to experience the yearly weight gain that necessitates plus-size pants and can clog arteries in middle-aged meat-eaters.

A study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that people who eat a low-fat vegan diet (meaning no meat, no eggs and no dairy products) can lose about a pound per week—even without exercising or counting calories.

And don’t worry, athletes—vegetarians are shedding body fat, not muscle. Vegetarians tend to be just as strong as or stronger than meat-eaters—just ask any one of the growing number of elite sports figures, such as slugger Prince Fielder, NBA star Raja Bell, mixed martial arts fighters Mac Danzig and Dale Hart and NFL running back Ricky Williams, who have gone vegetarian.

The meat habit can keep frequent flyers grounded in other ways too. Because the consumption of meat and other animal products has been linked to heart disease, strokes, diabetes and several kinds of cancer, going vegetarian could save portly passengers money on everything from hospital bills to home defibrillators.

Research has shown that vegetarians are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and they have 40 percent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters. Male meat-eaters might also be more prone to impotence because the cholesterol and saturated fats in animal foods can slow the flow of blood to all the body’s vital organs.

Says epidemiologist Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University, “Quite simply, the more you substitute plant foods for animal foods, the healthier you are likely to be.”

And, of course, eating a healthy vegetarian diet is the best thing that anyone can do to help stop the abuse of animals on factory farms, where chickens and turkeys are crammed by the thousands into filthy sheds for their entire lives and mother pigs are confined for years on end to metal crates that are so small they can’t even turn around.

In these tough economic times, having to pay for two seats would put a damper on anyone’s vacation plans, but cash-strapped airline passengers can both save and slim by going vegetarian. You might say that it’s the only way to fly.

Chris Holbein is the project manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division.

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