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Asking Some Big Questions

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?
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • v AMYD726
    Great post!

    I wholeheartedly agree that it's not all calories-in, calories-out. I think biochemistry, food allergies, and quality of food have a lot to do with how your body reacts to food and weight loss.

    I can't answer as to all the reasons why there's an obesity epidemic going on - but I will say to DISCIPLINE_DOES that I have had that same WALL-E thought many times myself! I feel like we're only a few years from that...and that's scary!
    1174 days ago
    That is a LOT of questions! Good ones, though!

    I agree with CALGIRL80 and CAKEMAKERMOM that it's a combination of so many different factors. Even foods that we think should be healthy for us like veggies and chicken are not as healthy as they should be, being pumped full of growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, etc.

    Busy-ness (and admittedly, laziness) makes it so much easier to pick up food through a window than to go home and waste precious tv time cooking something or doing something active. And that stuff really is addicting.

    I think there are some genetic factors, but I doubt the majority of us obese Americans can blame our weight on that.

    There are so many times when I feel like I'm living in the movie WALL-E. We're all huge, walking around with gigantic soda cups and our faces glued to a screen with some sort of mindless entertainment playing on it. It scares me.
    1175 days ago
  • v CC3833
    This is an amazing blog. So happy you wrote it. Honestly, I think it is a combination of all of those things. Genes, enviroment, food companies. I don't agree with legislation banning certain products but I like the 1970s idea of saying things are imitation. And I think it is hugely our culture. We want things right away and a healthy meal isn't instant.
    1175 days ago
  • v CALGIRL80
    I think it is a combination of factors. From jobs becoming more sedentary, portion sizes going up, they addition of chemicals (good and bad) to our food. Personally, I appreicate the calorie counts being printed on the menu. In no way does this infringe on an individuals right. In fact, it can empower them. I live in California where most restaurants are required to include calories on items, or have it accessible. I use this often to make the best choice for me. We have become an instant gratification society and this affects our choices as well. I am hungry and out so I am going to grab a burger instead of I am hungry I should head home and make some lunch.
    Contributing as well I think we have forgotten what hunger truly feels like. Food is connected so closely with emotions that we never let ourselves feel truly hungry.
    1175 days ago
    Many jobs have gone from having to physically work hard all day to sitting at a desk working, so many people do not have to do the work that just one generation back had to do. Society thinks we need to constantly multi-task never really getting anything done properly.

    Also, when corporate farms took over the small family farms, the way food is produced changed dramatically about 50 years ago. Livestock no longer has free range of the local area, it sits in cages all day, causing more diseases simply because of the amount of animals in one small area, making those farmers need to use more chemicals to keep them well, causing the bugs to get stronger and kill off more. Sick and fat animals make sick and fat people.

    The way produce is grown has changed dramatically too, instead of being in harmony with nature, we're trying to fight off all the pests, causing more trouble when we can't keep up with the bugs that survive.

    The personal computer doesn't help either. Since the 70's we've been able to sit and entertain ourselves instead of going out to visit and taking walks with friends. Now we sit here having conversations through electronics instead of getting out as much as the older generations used to.

    There is no one thing that you can pinpoint, but a variety of things that brought us to this point. Fortunately people, as a whole, are starting to understand that we did something terribly wrong at one point and are slowly going back to the way things were enough to make life "skinnier" again. Life is just much easier than it was a few generations back and our bodies haven't evolved enough to keep up with the changes.
    1175 days ago
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