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Three-Quarters of Americans See Weather Disasters, Like Hurricane Dorian, Worsening

Nearly three-quarters of Americans see weather disasters, like Hurricane Dorian, worsening and most of them blame global warming

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Americans, Weather Disasters, Hurricane
A rainbow rises over the extensive damage and destruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in The Mudd, Great Abaco, Bahamas, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019. VOA

Nearly three-quarters of Americans see weather disasters, like Hurricane Dorian, worsening and most of them blame global warming to some extent, a new poll finds.

And scientists say they’re right.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey shows 72% of Americans think catastrophic weather is more severe, while 4% see it as less nasty. About one-quarter say those disasters are about as extreme as they always were.

Half of those who think weather disasters are worsening say it’s mainly because of man-made climate change, with another 37% who think natural randomness and global warming are equally to blame.

Americans, Weather Disasters, Hurricane
FILE – Destruction lies in the wake of Hurricane Irma in St. Martin, Sept. 6, 2017. VOA

The poll was conducted in mid-August before Dorian formed, pummeled the Bahamas and put much of the U.S. East Coast on edge.

“We continue to loot our environment and it causes adverse weather,” said John Mohr, 57, a self-described moderate Republican in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he was bracing for Dorian’s arrival.

On Tybee Island, Georgia, Tony and Debbie Pagan said they rarely worried about hurricanes after buying their home nearly 50 years ago.

Hurricane David in 1979 and Floyd in 1999 threatened them but did little damage. The last four years haven’t been so kind.

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One miss, but two hits

Hurricane Matthew raked the island in 2016 and pushed several inches of floodwater into the Pagans’ low-lying house. Hurricane Irma the following year sent 2 feet of water surging into the home. And this year Hurricane Dorian threatened, but didn’t hit.

“This is climate change, though President Trump denies that it is,” Tony Pagan, 69, a retired electrician, said as he and his wife finished packing to leave Wednesday. “He needs to open his eyes.”

Majorities of adults across demographic groups think weather disasters are getting more severe, according to the poll. College-educated Americans are slightly more likely than those without a degree to say so, 79% versus 69%.

Americans, Weather Disasters, Hurricane
FILE – Indian residents queue with plastic containers to get drinking water from a tanker in the outskirts of Chennai, May 29, 2019. An unrelenting heat wave triggered warnings of water shortages and heatstroke in India on June 1. VOA

But there are wide differences in assessments by partisanship. Nine in 10 Democrats think weather disasters are more extreme, compared with about half of Republicans.

Americans this summer also are slightly more likely to say disasters are more severe when compared with a similarly worded question asked after hurricanes in 2013 and 2017.

“People are catching up with the science! Extreme events are always partly due to natural variability, but we do think many are increasing in frequency because of climate change,” Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald said in an email.

Heat, rain

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It’s more than hurricanes. A recent U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that heat waves are happening more often, are nastier and last longer, while heavy downpours are increasing globally, said NASA and Columbia University climate scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig.

Chris Dennis, 50, a registered nurse and self-described liberal Democrat in Greenville, South Carolina, said he is seeing more intense and more frequent weather disasters than in the past.

“Years ago, we didn’t hear of these kinds of storms, at least that frequently,” Dennis said, taking a break from watching the CNN forum on climate change for Democratic presidential candidates. He said he kept noticing the damning statistics on carbon dioxide put in the air, saying the “numbers are cranking up like the national debt clock … that’s pretty significant, what we’re doing to our environment.”

Scientific studies indicate a warming world has slightly stronger hurricanes, but they don’t show an increase in the number of storms hitting land, Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said. He said the real climate change effect causing more damage is storm surge from rising seas, wetter storms dumping more rain and more people living in vulnerable areas.

Skeptic

Not everyone sees climate change making weather worse.

Though she’s weary of dealing with storms three of the past four years, Sandy Cason of Tybee Island said she’s not ready to blame climate change. She noted Georgia got hit by several powerful hurricanes in the 1800s.

“If you go back and read, it’s a cyclical thing. It really is,” Cason said. “If you read enough about the old storms, I don’t think you can” attribute the most recent storms to climate change.

The AP-NORC poll of 1,058 adults was conducted Aug. 15-18 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone. (VOA)

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Americans Addicted to Snacks, Food Experts Paying Closer Attention to What that Might Mean for Health

In the late 1970s, about 40 percent of American adults said they didn’t have any snacks during the day. By 2007, that figure was just 10 percent

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Americans, Addicted, Snacks
This Sept. 7, 2019 photo shows items in a vending machine in New York. Americans are addicted to snacks, and food experts are paying closer attention to what that might mean for health and obesity. VOA

Americans are addicted to snacks, and food experts are paying closer attention to what that might mean for health and obesity.

Eating habits in the U.S. have changed significantly in recent decades, and packaged bars, chips and sweets have spread into every corner of life. In the late 1970s, about 40 percent of American adults said they didn’t have any snacks during the day. By 2007, that figure was just 10 percent.

To get a better handle on the implications of differing eating patterns, U.S. health officials are reviewing scientific research on how eating frequency affects health, including weight gain and obesity. The analysis is intended to gauge the broader spectrum of possibilities, including fasting. But snacking, grazing and “mini meals” are likely to be among the factors considered, given how they have upended the three-meals-a-day model.

Findings could potentially be reflected in the government’s updated dietary guidelines next year, though any definitive recommendations are unlikely.

Americans, Addicted, Snacks
Americans are addicted to snacks, and food experts are paying closer attention to what that might mean for health and obesity. Pixabay

For public health officials, part of the challenge is that snacking is a broad term that can mean a 100-calorie apple or a 500-calorie Frappuccino. How people adjust what they eat the rest of the day also varies. Snacks may help reduce hunger and overeating at meals, but they can also just push up the total calories someone consumes.

While there’s nothing wrong with snacks per se, they have become much more accessible. It also has become more socially acceptable to snack more places: at work meetings and while walking, driving or shopping for clothes.

“We live in a 24/7 food culture now,” said Dana Hunnes, a senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center.

To encourage better choices as global obesity rates climb, public health officials have increasingly considered government interventions, including “junk food” taxes.

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In Mexico, which has among the highest obesity rates in the world, special taxes on sugary drinks and other foods including some snacks and candies went into effect in 2014.

Last week, a study in the medical journal BMJ said taxing sugary snacks in the United Kingdom could have a bigger impact on obesity rates than a tax on sugary drinks that went into effect last year. While sugary drinks account for 2 percent of average calories in the United Kingdom, sugary snacks like cakes and cookies account for 12 percent, the study said.

Complicating matters, snack options are also continuing to broaden beyond the standard chips and cookies.

“Manufacturers have tried to tap into Americans’ concern for health,” said Paula Johnson, curator of food history at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Americans, Addicted, Snacks
Eating habits in the U.S. have changed significantly in recent decades, and packaged bars, chips and sweets have spread into every corner of life. Pixabay

Beyond nutrition, health officials should also consider what emotional or mental health benefits might be lost when people move away from meals, said Sophie Egan, who writes about American food culture. Meals can be a time for socially connectivity, she said, while snacks are usually eaten alone. She also noted the growth in snacking may be fueled by the stress of busier lives.

“Who knows how much food is a Band-Aid for those issues,” Egan said.

For their part, food companies have moved to capitalize on Americans’ love of snacks and stretched the definition of the word. Dunkin Donuts’ former CEO has said the chain’s sandwiches should be considered snacks, not lunch. When Hershey bought a meat jerky company, the candy company said it wanted to expand its offerings across the ”snacking continuum ” to include more nutritious options.

Health experts’ recommendations on snacking vary. Children may need more snacks and to eat more frequently. For adults, many dietitians saying what works for one person might not for another.

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Hunnes, the UCLA dietitian, recommends sticking to minimally processed options like fruit or nuts when snacking. But she acknowledged the advice could sound like it’s coming from an ivory tower, given the prevalence of packaged snacks.

“They’re just there, and they have a great shelf life,” she said. (VOA)