45 Reasons Why America is Obese

America…like other countries… is getting fatter day after day after day. And if you listen to the mainstream media / medical “experts”, most will tell you that it’s all about Calories in vs Calories Out. A small minority will reference the power of insulin while some obesity-apologists will blame their DNA.

So, I raise the question….Is there a one size fits all cause and/or cure for obesity?

Or are there a whole bunch of factors coming together to create America’s obesity epidemic?

To aid in the discussion, I have put together a partial list of the factors that I think influence human obesity.

45 Unique Causes of Obesity

Food

  • Quantity of food – Calories
  • Quantity of food – Volume
  • Type and Quality of food – Macronutrients – Carbs, Fat, Protein
  • Type and Quality of food – MicronutrientsVitamins, Minerals, Enzymes, Phytochemicals, etc…
  • Type and Quality of food – Nutrient Density v.s Caloric Density
  • Your beliefs and emotions regarding food – food as pleasure, food as fuel
  • Dining habits – eat on the run vs sit down dinner

Pizza Hut Hot Dog stuffed crust pizza

 

Next Page – Your Body…

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19 thoughts on “45 Reasons Why America is Obese

  1. The concept of America as a “Fat Nation” has more to do with the average American than it does with the edge cases. Every human culture on the planet has people with genetic causes of obesity, but not every human culture on the planet has an obese population of the percentage shown by the US. Therefore, it is society and culture that are the reason for our society and culture to be perceived as obese by the rest of the world.

    They are not incorrect. We advertise unhealthy food. We make unhealthy food easily accessible. We create a desire for unhealthy food. We make unhealthy food cheap, and healthy food more expensive. And then we try to make it seem to be “okay” to be obese – providing people with reasons for excusing themselves for being that way so that they don’t need to bear any blame or guilt.

    The truth is, the vast majority of the people in the US who are fat COULD be thinner. Not only that, but I believe that they would LIKE to be thinner. The problem is that our society and culture has trained them to be professional eaters, and taken away any form of physical activity from them. We (as Americans) need to find a way to make it easier to get exercise, and easier to obtain healthy food. Moreover, it might be that we need to make it HARDER to obtain unhealthy food (although I don’t know how you’d do this without infringing on freedom of commerce, which is such a part of our culture that practically like saying to the fat-inducing companies, “you can’t earn money.”

  2. Freedom of commerce???

    Gov’t subsidies to Big Agri has resulted in cheap, nutritionally empty processed foods. They unfairly tilt the marketplace in the favor of Big Agri

    A revenue neutral approach might include shifting some of that gov’t money away from the corn, wheat, soy, sugar industries and towards those farmers willing to work the land like our grandparents did – crop rotation, crop diversity, less chemicals, no GMOs, no factory farms, responsible use of antibiotics, animals being fed their natural diet (ie cows eating grass)

    Alternately, if Americans are willing to hold their noses, their gov’ts could slap taxes on junk food like they do with smokes and booze.

    True, even us socialist Canadians don’t even do that yet, but then again, we are slightly less fat than you guys.

  3. It annoys me that there’s such a disconnect between those involved in actually training people and those involved in studying and legislating health policy …

    In general, those involved in training people only recognize “personal responsibility”, and are plain hostile to any suggestion that their are larger social, economic, political and psychological forces that significantly effect an individual’s weight.

    Conversely, those involved in health policy often see individuals as powerless agents incapable of resisting cultural forces without their educative and legislative ‘leadership’.

    Obviously, the reality is a complex blend of both positions. We’ve gotta move past naive and simplistic individualism and yet not fall into the seductive trap of social determinism. Individuals can change their own lives—FACT. And yet the more ‘intangible’ socio-economic and psycho-political factors are the PRIMARY forces behind the obesity problems across our communities.

    Anyway, enough of my opinion …

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles that highlight the complexities associated with obesity. Keep up the good work!

    Thanks!

  4. With all respect intended, “freedom of commerce” is not just part of our “culture”, it’s part of what this nation was founded on. And yes, it is within the right of “fat-inducing” companies to make money. (Try raising kids today without exposing them to pornography at very early ages. It’s well within the rights of the media to provide this “entertainment” – constant parental vigilance is required if you don’t want the kids exposed to that.) I don’t believe freedom of commerce is the problem.

    Yes, I understand that “Big…..(fill in the blank)…” is behind lots of bad decisions and the creation of all sorts of awful foodstuffs that create illness, not health. Any time human beings are involved in making decisions about money, you will find some of them who are greedy. That’s never going to go change so we need to work with that as one of our parameters. My question is why are so many American people making such bad choices?

    But there’s more to it than that. As the list of links above shows, obesity is a complex issue. What about those folks who can drink soda and eat fast food and don’t exhibit health issues? Should they be told they can’t go to McDonald’s or pay $5 for that can of Coke? I don’t think they should even though I can’t do it myself. How about finding out more about why people become obese? Not everyone will lose weight with the traditional methods. Some will, of course, but a lot won’t. How can they do what they need to do if they don’t know what that is?

    There is no magic bullet, no magic “sin tax” that will solve this problem. I think we have just begun to unravel the knot.

  5. Just from a personal standpoint, all of these factors also lead to one other obesity issue…information overload, which can lead to complete demoralization unless you find a way to deal with all of the information.

    I am a fairly young and active 31 year old guy that has earnestly been chasing my abs for probably 2 years now, reading a lot of books, articles, supplement adds, news, forums, and the like. I have focused on certain aspects along the way as I was reading up on them, reducing cortisol, increasing testosterone, exercise is the key, nutrient density is the key, low calorie is the key, eating more is key, low sugar is the key, cardio is the key, weightlifting is the key, stress reduction is the key, and so forth….all of these have led to some successes but I have never gotten to my abs thus far. This leads to confusion, especially when some of these ideas contradict each other, and a lot of the information exaggerated greatly in attempt on making a buck or two rather than really be effective.

    In such there comes a time when you have tried, and I mean really tried, so much and never gotten the results you have wanted that the failures start to become fact in one’s mind. Dropping the fat starts to become a fairy tale, you either continue your struggle and deal with the internal strife of constant failures, or you just give in embrace the fat life as comfortably as you can.

    I think a lot of obese people have this same feeling, maybe they didn’t try for 2 years back to back hardcore, but over the course of time they probably tried really hard to follow plans that really sucked, and the pain they endured emotionally and perhaps even physically is great enough for them to feel justified that they gave it as good a try as they can. This led to failure and more weight gain then they started with, and ultimately this cycle breaks their will to try again. In their mind they have “tried everything” and it doesn’t work, rather than deal with the pain of examining the failures to learn from them to plan their next attack, it becomes just easier to remain fat and attempt to alleviate the depression with other methods. I have been there myself, sometimes it almost becomes more depressing to keep trying then to just fail and accept it, it is definitely more complicated and confusing to keep trying.

    On top of that, how you fix that scenario in a world setup to get us to eat more and more bad foods, and one that is making being fat more comfortable, or one that government is trying to make everyone feel like they are owed something to effect a power grab, I don’t know.

    -Matt

  6. It is a complicated problem involving a lot of different aspects…personal freedom, healthcare costs, prejudice, concern for others, etc…

    Personally, I find the idea of sin taxes abhorrent. The combination of a tax grab combined with a paternalistic “big brother knows best” attitude really ticks me off.

    However, if the gov’t was to apply major taxes (ie $5 can of coke) to all of the “bad” foods, and direct those tax dollars towards the “good” foods as a subsidy, I do think this would have a huge impact on the health of the nation.

    Morally, ethically & politically repugnant….but effective from a health standpoint.

    Not much of a choice, is it?

    This is part of the reason why I think that change happens most effectively when it comes from the grassroots.

    BTW, I hope you didn’t think I was mocking America’s freedom of commerce. I just looked back at my comment and it seemed a little snarky.

    On a theoretical level, the libertarian in me loves the concept of individual freedoms. But I don’t think that that concept works in today’s America. The system has been gamed by lobby groups & politicians to give certain groups unfair business advantages over those groups without any political clout.

  7. Hey Matt,

    Complicated doesn’t even begin to explain it. Over the years, I have gotten lost in the minutae of training programs, supplements and nutrition.

    I can only imagine how confusing all of this is to someone who doesn’t get all exited over insulin secretion rates and hormone receptors.

    They just want to be told what they need to do to drop 20 lbs.

    But, between the medical profession, the researchers, the doctors, the fitness gurus, supplement companies and snake oil salesmen, the info provided to the general public is confusing, contradictory and is basically a big lie designed to get you to spend more money.

    Sad but true.

    So, how do we fix the problem?

    Here’s my thoughts.

    1. There is power in numbers. So, instead of John Q Public trying to wade through all of the weight loss BS by himself, he should join together in an online weight loss community. And not a community run by experts who will tell you what to do. Run by the people trying to lose weight.

    2. That community should set up a paypal account funded by a very small monthly mandatory donation. With that money, they can pay experts to provide advice to the group. If the advice sucks, the group hires another expert

    3. While we are all individuals, there are an overwhelming number of similarities in regards to obesity in North America

    4. Every week, the group would get new workouts (gym workouts, bodyweight workouts, etc…)

    5. Every week, the group would get an updated meal plan

    6. Every month, the group would get a newsletter outlining the latest research re obesity, health & fitness

    I am just spitballin’ here, but with the technology available today, this type of plan is possible for less than the cost of one fitness magazine per month.

    Ex. $5 per person per month x 1000 members = $5000 per month to spend on advice. For $5000, the group should be able to pay for a lot of expert advice.

    And as the group grows and learns, perhaps leaders emerge from within and there is no need for an expert

    As well, a fitness group with thousands of members should be able to get discounts from health-focused retailers – Organic grocery stores (Whole Foods), health food stores, equipment manufacturers, etc…

    Just my 2 cents

  8. That’s not a bad idea, the biggest issue I can see is trying to find consensus on where the $ will be spent. Your going to have people all over the spectrum wanting/needing various types of experts and at least in the initial startup your going to have limited funds to work with.

    Another concern is how far customized does the expert need to get? Your going to have a wide range of body types and skill levels, but I doubt any of the experts are willing to schedule time to talk to each client and fully customize 1000 plans. You may need to sortuf database the body types and skill levels and then the experts can work up 3-4, maybe more, plans for those generally. For those with very specific issues perhaps the forums could help them get further customized but there has to be some limits of expectations and response time or else the $ required is going to be a lot more then expected.

    I think with some careful planning you could probably work around those issues though

    -Matt

  9. BTW forgot to mention, I once almost decided to go back to college to work on a nutrition/fitness type degree because of all of this information overload. At least there I could perhaps look more at research that has some backing, and learn to differentiate the fact from opinion a little better. I have not decided against it totally, but it would be a huge career change for me (Currently an technical support engineer for a telecommunications company).

    Its just hard to walk away from 10 years experience in one field to pursue another field thats not inter-related, I’m also afraid the classes would interfere with my current fitness/weight/martial arts training I am most focused on atm. But its always in the back of my mind, if I were to get laid off I would definetly be looking into it more.

    -Matt

  10. I have the same question about $$$.

    Who has spending authority?
    What happens if that person drains the $$$ from the paypal acct?

    Re customization…obviously, you would have to sacrifice 1 on 1 attention to save $$$

    I would also keep individual groups small, and then have each small group be part of a larger nationwide group to cash in on any potential discounts, etc..

    I am pretty psyched about this, but that is probably because I am at the ideas stage and haven’t really looked at the potential roadblocks

  11. I think this is a great post in terms of how clouded the fitness landscape has become. You used the word minutiae in an earlier comment and that’s exactly what a lot of the stuff out there is unless it is in the context of trained individuals. That sort of advice should come with some disclaimer to prevent confusion for people with a longer way to go to get fit, along the lines of “hey, this is for more intermediate/advanced trainees.”

    “So, I raise the question….Is there a one size fits all cause / cure for obesity?”

    I think the point that for the vast majority, all they need to begin focusing on is working hard and watching what they eat is a point that needs to be driven home by more people. Work hard, and the specifics won’t matter. Eat real food, and the specifics won’t matter. It’s not to say it’s easy, but it is rather simple, much more simple than some sources make it out to be.

  12. There is a general one size fits all cure for health, watch the food and boost it with a little exercise. You can be overweight but healthy and in shape.

    For obesity and weight loss I think thats a little tougher area, it depends on what you call normal, I am 18-19% bodyfat atm and in shape. I consider myself moderately overweight but far from obese, my BMI though is over 30 so according to the definition of obese I am obese even though I carry a lot of muscle and am under the 20% healthy bodyfat cap.

    Again I want to stress that losing weight is not as easy as some make it out to be. Yes its easy to get some results fast, and some results over time, but those last 20lbs can be a nightmare for some of us. I am one of those, I am doing everything I can think of with my diet and am physically active probably 2-3 times the average (active) person, but its still been been a slow process. Sure when I first started the first 30-40lbs went pretty quick and easily, but this last 20lbs my body has resisted it at every turn. I am sure there are others with similar battles, so its hard to say a blanket statement that its simple or easy, its really not because sometimes you have to try a myriad of things to make it work and its easy to get lost or give up along the way if it starts to stall.

    -Matt

  13. Once you’ve been fat, deciding to be thin and in shape in the current environment within the US is like deciding to drive a 50,000 dollar car while on a 50K income. It’s not impossible, it’s just really hard. You have to make sacrifices in order to get what you want. You have to suffer.

    But it CAN be done.

    The question is, would you rather drive around in a Corvette, or would you rather drive around in an ordinary car? A lot of people don’t care that much about keeping their body up. So long as it’s functionally effective, they’re satisfied. Sure, they’d like to be in better shape, and they’d like to look better, but it isn’t worth the cost in time and effort to them.

    Getting in shape, and staying in shape, is a lifestyle change. Those who have done it (or are attempting to do it) know this. Those who say that they can slam down fat burgers and shakes and soda all day without gaining any weight are either suffering from a metabolic condition, or are very young and haven’t been hit with the metabolic slow down yet. Either way, eventually, they will pay a price for this behavior, no matter who they are. Dumping fat and sugar into your system for an extended period of time is going to screw you up just like drinking alcohol every day for years is going to screw you up. It’s fine to say that it won’t, or to point out that there are people out there who won’t be affected, but let me tell you – they probably aren’t YOU.

    If you’re trying to lose weight, and you’re suffering, then don’t be surprised. It’s just part of the equation. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I was only 35 pounds overweight. Now, I don’t remember the last time I wasn’t hungry at least part of the day. I don’t remember the last time I sat down to eat when I couldn’t eat more if I didn’t stop myself. I’ve lost that weight, but it hangs over me like a flaming scimitar. If I gain it back, I’ll lose control and end up on insulin injections, whereas right now I can control it with oral meds and exercise.

    Just don’t give up. Once you’ve been fat, you’ve really only got three choices – Fat, Hungry, or Dead. Pick one and go with it. I’m taking hungry.

  14. Yash,

    For the most part, you are right.

    Eat more “real” food – fruit, veg, meat
    Eat less “fake” food – anything that comes in a box or needs a list of ingredients

    With exercise, it gets a bit more complicated.

    I make my living as a trainer because people don’t have active lifestyles. Most of us sit on our ass all day.

    An hour with me is designed to replace (hopefully) the physical activity you would have performed if you lived in the olden days…hunting, gathering, farming, etc…

    This prescription should work for most people…except that more and more of us have gotten in such poor shape, that our bodies rebel against any type of positive change. It needs to hold onto that fat

    That’s where it gets really tricky

  15. You have a good point Matt, but as an active person and someone who has lost 30-40 pounds, you might fall into a more intermediate/advanced category now. What I meant in my comment was, its at THAT point [meaning where you are now] that an athlete/trainee should worry about more specific things. You may need to pay attention to the specifics or try out slightly more complex things now to get to where you want to be, more specific than you needed to be 40 lbs ago. I hope that makes my point more clear. My point is, many people who want to get in shape initially are bombarded with 65,345 different programs/diets/veiwpoints, and that’s where the fitness industry goes wrong, by confusing beginners. This leads to a lot of people deciding go get in shape and failing because of the complexity of it all, or trying out crazy complicated things and quitting because those things bring results only once you’re at a certain level.

    The vast majority of the out of shape population could see dramatic improvements with very generalized life changes. You no longer fall into this category, and for that, congratulations.

  16. You seem to have meshed together two separate, but related concepts in this post. There is a big difference between reversing obesity and preventing it. And yes, for already obese people the lure of advertising and cheaper prices on junk food only further contributes to their struggle. I have met many people who were raised to love whole foods and prefer them to processed foods, so even if these folks need to lose some fat, they have a great diet that just requires tweaking. I quite agree that US companies are well within their rights to produce & advertise horrible stuff, and I dont think they would do it unless they knew people would buy it. If America just made unavailable sugary, processed foods overnight, many Americans would feel quite ill as they detox and try to break their addictions, while others would start a black market trade in Mexican soda and candy, both of whichwill hurt us economically. And I do feel strongly that it should, ultimately, be up to the individuals to choose what’s healthy and not. For example, my personal trainer is a professional body builder who frequently drinks coffee for energy during workouts. I think caffeine will overload and kill the adrenals, hurt the stomach, and there are non-diuretic sources of energy that are beneficial to us, such as ginseng, certain mushrooms and bee pollen. Despite this difference of opinion, he and I have reached our goals for our bodies. Imagine if someone like myself had a hand in government elimination of coffee imports? It could hurt his career.

  17. I would just add… the emotions and thoughts that comprise one’s attitudes, for that is what is going to determine the behavioral components of fatness, as opposed to the exogenous factors, such as soil quality and genetics.

  18. Agreed – the best diet, exercise program, etc is useless if your mind/emotions keep sabotaging your behavior

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