Americans are getting fatter each and every year and they just don’t seem to care. Even with dire warnings about health issues, shortened life expectancy, and a diabetic epidemic in full swing, people are getting fatter every year.
Not just fat, but medically obese; and that concerns health care professionals immensely. Currently 68 percent of adults are overweight. Of this group almost 35 percent are obese. Obesity is defined as 20 percent or more over ideal body weight.
Overeating may not affect someone today, tomorrow or next year, but over time most obese people will suffer the consequences of that extra weight. The more obvious concerns are conditions such as:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
- Certain forms of cancer
- High blood pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Kidney disease
Physicians are so concerned with obesity that during the June 2013 annual convention of the American Medical Association (AMA) they voted to call it a disease. While the AMA holds no legal authority, recognizing obesity as a disease sets a precedent for future treatments and possible insurance coverage of those treatments. “Obesity is a complex, multifactorial chronic disease that develops from an interaction of genotype and the environment,” according to an evidence report on the CDC’s website.
As powerful as these arguments are, Americans keep packing on the pounds. A look into the various aspects of why we overeat may help explain the trend in weight gain and the difficulty in reversing it.
The understanding of why obesity develops is far from complete. Factors such as social and cultural behavior, economics, physiological and genetic factors can help explain the phenomenon. Looking at the connections between these factors may give a broader, yet more thorough understanding of the epidemic America seems to ignore.
Fast food restaurants have a huge influence on diet; and they know what they’re doing. This food is cheap and plentiful across America. Low nutrition foods on the menu include high amounts of salt, fat, and sugar. Our bodies crave these high caloric foods because of physiology. Our nomadic ancestors were hard-wired to eat and store high calorie foods whenever possible because they were rarely found.
Super sizing in America has helped tip the scales towards obesity. Some say David Wallerstein started the concept in the early 1960s. He was the owner of a chain of movie theaters in the Midwest. Wallerstein wanted to boost popcorn sales. He’s tried matinee pricing and two-for-one specials to no avail. One night the answer came to him and the Jumbo-sized popcorn box was invented. Sales soared and so did another high margin item, soda.
A decade later, Wallerstein was serving on the board at McDonald’s when the chain was confronted with a similar problem. People were purchasing a hamburger, fries and a drink and leaving. How could they get the customer to buy more? Wallerstein suggested bigger bags of fries. When it was pointed out that the customer could simply buy two bags of the smaller fries Wallerstein is reputed to have said, “They don’t want to eat two bags-they don’t want to look like a glutton.” This “super sizing” is an economic boon for fast food companies and a strain on the belt line of Americans.
When the biggest jump in Americans weight occurred in the 1980s, sizes for single servings of food also increased. Even in cook books, a recipe that served 10 people suddenly served only six. People are relying on an external cue of a serving versus how they feel when they eat the food.
Most everyone has a favorite recipe, holiday dish, traditional feast, or an obsession about some type of food. Every culture around the world comes together to feast on special occasions. Ethnicity, economics, sex, age and education influence eating habits.
- Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (47.8%) followed by Hispanics (42.5%), non-Hispanic whites (32.6%), and non-Hispanic Asians (10.8%)
- Obesity is higher among middle age adults, 40-59 years old (39.5%) than among younger adults, age 20-39 (30.3%) or adults over 60 or above (35.4%) adults.
- Among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men, those with higher incomes are more likely to be obese than those with low-income.
- Higher income women are less likely to be obese than low-income women.
- There is no significant relationship between obesity and education among men. Among women, however, there is a trend—those with college degrees are less likely to be obese compared with less educated women.
The repercussions of a more sedentary lifestyle due to computer use must be considered. Digital Natives, those born 1980s and later, have grown up with the internet and cell phones as part of their lives. Video games have all but replaced playground activities. Only 1 in 4 children, aged 12 to 15, meet the recommended hour or more of rigorous exercise daily, according to a 2012 National Youth Fitness Survey.
Poverty areas of communities are often called “food deserts” because of lack of access to fresh food. Counties in the U.S. with the highest rates of poverty also have the highest rates of diabetes according to the information from the American Diabetes Association.
The link between obesity, inactivity and poverty maybe too expensive to ignore. Associated chronic diseases account for 70 percent of the U.S. Health costs.
Americans aren’t the only ones getting fat. In Asia, Africa and South America obesity is on the rise. It seems that those living above the poverty level are gaining weight most rapidly in impoverished countries. While being fat is seen as better than starving, it is possible to be overweight and malnourished at the same time. “People on modest incomes suddenly fine, cheap, calorie-packed diets within their grasp and make the most of it…” according to “Globesity”, a book about the international problems of weight gain.
Physiology and genetics
In a University of Chicago-led study, researchers discovered
what appears to be the functional obesity gene, named IRX3.
Yes, scientist have found genes that can make people store fat. The old gene studies put the blame on a gene known as FTO. Just recently another gene, the IRX3, was found to be a distant, but connected gene to fat retention. However, overweight individuals can’t blame it on their growing girth. There’s news from a new study published by the Public Library Of Science, titled, “Physical Activity Attenuates the Influence of FTO Variants on Obesity Risk”
The study found the effect of this gene on weight gain is very small; about two pounds. Further, the study found that at least one hour of moderate to vigorous activity per week reduces the effects of the “fat gene” by a third. As the study notes the research, “demonstrates that a genetic susceptibility to obesity is modifiable by lifestyle choices…We can’t control our genes, but we can control what we eat and how much we exercise.”
So where do we go from here?
It’s clear that many people are getting comfortable with getting larger. Americans cheer for positive self-image and personal acceptance while simultaneously buying magazines that photo-shop cover models into ultra-thin images of unrealistic perfection. We complain about Airline seats getting smaller while asking for an extension for the seat-belts. Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, characterized the threat as follows
Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
There are positive changes in the air
The Slow Food Movement (click to see website)
What’s it all about? Taking time to eat good, healthy food
Slow Food USA seeks to create dramatic and lasting change in the food system. We reconnect Americans with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food. We seek to inspire a transformation in food policy, production practices and market forces so that they ensure equity, sustainability and pleasure in the food we eat.
Hopefully, we will realize that our health is the most important asset we have. No fad diet, special herb, amazing pill, or quick fix workout machine will replace the amazing effects of a lifetime of healthy eating and a physical active lifestyle.