8 graphs showing why people get fat

why-people-are-fatObesity rates have tripled in the past three decades, and nearly 70% of American adults are classified as either overweight or obese. (1)

The number of obese children continues to rise as well, with nearly a third of our young people struggling with extra weight. (2)

If things don’t change, there are likely to be well over a billion overweight and obese people on the planet by the year 2030. (3)

It’s happening around the world in developed countries, and since humans don’t change that fast genetically, it must be environment.

Let’s take a look at historical information to shed some light on how changing habits may have contributed to this disturbing trend.

  1. People Eat More Sugar Than Ever Before

sugar-consumption-in-uk-and-usa (1)

Source: Johnson RJ, et al. Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007.

Added sugar in the modern diet wreaks havoc on weight and overall health.

A disaster for metabolic health, increased sugar consumption leads to an impressive array of modern disorders, including high triglyceride levels, insulin resistance, increased belly fat and more of the dense, small LDL cholesterol particles. (4, 5)

Eating generous quantities of sugar jacks up the risk of developing heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, as well as other health problems. (6, 7, 8,)

It’s also fattening, making it much more likely you’ll be overweight or obese. (9)

  1. People Sleep Less In Modern Times

historical-sleep-trends-in-hours-per-night

Source: Cauter EV, et al. The Impact of Sleep Deprivation on Hormones and Metabolism. Medscape, 2005.

The amount of shut-eye you get each night affects overall health in a number of ways, including weight control.

Inadequate and poor sleep can negatively impact hormone balance, including those associated with the regulation of body weight. (10, 11)

Children who don’t get enough sleep are 89% more likely to be obese, while the rate for adults is more than half at 55%. (12)

  1. Fewer Calories Are Burned At Work

trends-in-occupation-related-physical-activity

Source: Church TS, et al. Trends over 5 Decades in U.S. Occupation-Related Physical Activity and Their Associations with Obesity. PLoS One, 2011.

With more sedentary occupations and fewer people performing physically demanding labor, the population as whole burns less calories during the work day.

Leisure activities that include exercise are on the rise, but you can see by the graph that people burn an average of a hundred calories less daily, and this can translate to weight gain over the long term.

  1. Low-Fat Diets Kicked Off Weight Gain

low-fat-guidelines

Source: National Center for Health Statistics (US). Health, United States, 2008: With Special Feature on the Health of Young Adults. 2009 Mar. Chartbook.

When heart disease rates began to climb, scientists in the mid-20th century fingered saturated fat and other dietary fats as the cause and began recommending low-fat diets.

Although the theory has since been proven wrong, many authorities still push the protocol as a healthy diet despite the fact that low-fat diets don’t lead to weight loss, and don’t prevent cancer or heart disease. (13, 14, 15, 16)

The period of time when fat in the diet was being replaced with processed foods that were often high in sugar corresponds with the beginning of the obesity epidemic. While this isn’t hard proof, it’s difficult to argue the association.

  1. Grain and Cereal Consumption Has Increased

Data 8

Graph Source: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/12/us-weight-lifestyle-and-diet-trends.html

The consumption of carbohydrates from cereal grains has risen over past decades, with wheat significantly outdistancing corn and rice.

Modern versions of wheat have been genetically modified to increase yields, sacrificing a level of nutritional value. (17)  Most of the wheat consumed is refined white flour, so it’s a little different version of the empty calories from added sugar.

Low-carb diets restricting the consumption of grains and other food rich in carbohydrate are the clear front-runners for weight loss and ongoing maintenance. (18)

Graph Source: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/12/us-weight-lifestyle-and-diet-trends.html

The consumption of carbohydrates has risen over past decades, with wheat significantly outdistancing corn and rice.

Modern versions of wheat have been genetically modified to increase yields, sacrificing a level of nutritional value. (17)  Most of the wheat consumed is refined white flour, so it’s a little different version of the empty calories from added sugar.

Low-carb diets restricting the consumption of grains and other food rich in carbohydrate are the clear front-runners for weight loss and ongoing maintenance. (18)

  1. People Eat More Junk Food

food-spending-smaller

Source: Dr. Stephan Guyenet. Fast Food, Weight Gain and Insulin Resistance.Whole Health Source.

In 1890 people mostly cooked and ate meals at home. Today people frequently eat at restaurants and other situations taking them out of the home more than ever before.

Much of what they’re eating is fast food, and the graph doesn’t even account for processed foods eaten in the home, as opposed to the simple meals people ate a hundred years ago.

These were wholesome foods without chemicals or additives; much of what is sold in stores today is far from natural, and processed foods account for most of the extra calories in the modern diet.

  1. The Price of Food is at an All-Time Low

food-price-trends-as-percentage-of-disposable-income

Source: Dr. Stephan Guyenet. Why do we Overeat? A Neurobiological Perspective.2014.

The cost of feeding a family occupied about a quarter of disposable income 80 years ago, where now it only requires about 10%.

Here’s the catch: it’s processed food that’s cheap, while real, quality food is so expensive many people can’t afford it. In some areas, it’s not even available. Many grocery stores and convenience stores in poor areas carry only junk food.

This puts people on a low income at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to their health.

  1. Holiday Weight Gain Doesn’t Always Come Off

holiday-weight-gain-in-the-us (1)

Source: Dr. Stephan Guyenet. Why do we Overeat? A Neurobiological Perspective.2014.

Weight gain is usually slow and steady, taking place over a period of years.

But annual gain is uneven, and the holidays are prime time for putting on extra weight.

January is the most popular month for starting a diet, and some people succeed in dropping what they gained in November and December, but all too often some of it never goes away.

If you gain 5 pounds over a couple of months, and only take off 3 or 4, then do the same thing year after year, it’s going to add up to a considerable chunk after a decade or two. (19)

And it’s going to be worse if you’re indulging in other dietary habits that encourage incremental weight gain over the years.

Recap

According to studies done on increased calorie intake in modern times, this variable alone is enough to explain the obesity epidemic. (20)

It’s important to remember that environmental factors like changes in the food supply actually alter body chemistry and cause hormonal signaling networks to short-circuit.

This affects the way the brain works, obliterating the built-in protection system that used to keep us from getting fat.

Summary: Biological malfunctions triggered by the refined and processed foods dominating the modern diet are to blame for the ongoing epidemic of overweight and obesity that lead to chronic health problems.

References:

  1. http://stateofobesity.org/obesity-rates-trends-overview/
  2. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18607383
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23594708
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673878/
  6. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=199317
  7. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/4/1037.short
  8. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0306987783900956
  9. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/4/537.short
  10. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1547-5069.2009.01262.x/full
  11. http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0010062
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2398753/
  13. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=202339
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16391215
  15. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=377969
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16467233
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18781763
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/395115
  19. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200003233421206
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19828708/
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