Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Why are so many Americans overweight or obese? Is it from lack of movement, eating too much, or is it the environment that sets us up to fail?
Do you believe in "calories in-calories out"? I am not sure that I do. Maybe I do on a very basic level, but not entirely. It doesn't explain plateaus. I watched the Weight of the Nation documentary (it was shown on HBO but free to anyone on YouTube) and they said something about how hard it is for people who were once obese to keep weight off; something about how 1400 calories in a never-obese person is metabolized more efficiently than the same 1400 calories in a previously-obese person. It's like weight maintenance is stacked against the previously-obese person. That doesn't support the calories in-calories out hypothesis well enough.
That's not to say weight loss and weight maintenance is not worth the effort. There's a national weight loss registry of people who lost a substantial amount of weight and kept it off. The goal is to understand what these folks do so successfully and compare it to the people who gain the weight back. In a New York Times article I read about weight maintenance once, as well as what people on the documentary said, hyper-diligence is what helps them stay successful: tracking everything, weighing food, etc.
Then there are the people who think personal responsibility does not have much to do with it. They say that food manufacturers have figured out the most addictive salt-sugar-fat ratios and the system sets us all up to fail. Can legislation force people into better decisions, like seatbelt laws and smoking bans help to save lives? New York City tried to ban large sizes of soda. In some cities, chain restaurants are required to have calorie counts on menus. But that begs the question, at what point does protecting the public's health infringe on the public's rights?
Can we say that over-processed food that is sold is really food? They're mostly chemicals, right? If I remember correctly from In Defense of Food, a book by Michael Pollan, before the 1970s, food that was manufactured with not-typical ingredients had to be called "imitation." They got rid of that law and now we have 70-ingredient hamburger buns. Michael Pollan calls most processed food "edible food-like substances," a term I often think about. I try to eat foods without ingredients that I can't pronounce or purchase independently.
On another hand, there are some who say that the microbes in our guts (which we get from the different types of foods we eat) encourage or discourage obesity. And of course there are our genes... Are some of us more genetically predisposed for obesity, and the environment of bad food is the trigger?
Lots of questions, lots of rabbit holes to go down! It's a very complex issue and I wish we understood it more. Why do you think most of America is overweight or obese?