The Many Causes of the Modern Obesity Epidemic

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With one in five children and one in three adults now classified as obese, America is facing a healthcare challenge that is rising dangerously. This major increase began about fifty years ago with a decrease in home-cooked meals and an increase in daily calorie consumption, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

This has also dramatically changed the way that obesity is viewed. Historically, obesity was regarded as a symbol of success in many cultures, and a protection against starvation in many native civilizations. These civilizations prized animal fat as a valuable resource to protect them from future cold spells and periods where food was more difficult to come by. Now, obesity is viewed as a multifaceted medical condition.

Food, Genetics and the Body’s Defenses Against Diets

As a result of this history, the body developed mechanisms to conserve energy and calories, making it particularly difficult to lose weight via dieting. Those that are overweight will find that their bodies fight them every step of the way when trying to lose that weight. Hormonal control, emotional responses and psychological reactions are all part of this system, originally designed to keep us alive in times of starvation.

The last fifty years have seen major changes in a number of areas that have impacted obesity, including the following, as reported in the article “Many Fronts for Fighting Obesity” by Jane E. Brody in The New York Times:

  • Eating out makes it harder to eat healthy, as nutrition information is rarely available, and portion sizes have grown rapidly. The average American now eats out for five meals per week, and studies have shown that eating out just once a week can add up to two pounds a year.

  • Food marketing has greatly impacted the American waistline, with many products being sold as healthy alternatives, yet consumed in ways that minimize health benefits. Frozen yogurt shops, for example, offer presumably healthier alternative to ice cream, yet allow customers to easily dispense much more yogurt into their cups then they would if they purchased an ice cream cone.

  • Portion sizes have greatly increased, both in restaurant settings and at home, having a dramatic impact on the amount of calories consumed each day. This has increased mental and physical expectations for both meals and snack foods.

For these reasons, bariatric surgeries such as Lap Band have greatly risen in popularity, as their effects are felt at all levels of this body response to dieting. These surgeries have a complex impact on the body, minimizing these hormone responses and making weight loss more attainable as a part of a complete weight loss plan including diet and exercise.

Photo by Earl – What I Saw 2.o on Flickr.

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