Obesity is a rising epidemic around the world. Though it’s so prevalent, there are a lot of differing opinions on why obesity rates around the world are rising, and how to address the issue.
What causes obesity, and what can we do to prevent it? Here’s what the experts say.
Obesity Facts & Statistics
Obesity isn’t just a cosmetic issue – it can also be a serious health risk. Obesity can cause or exacerbate a range of issues including:
- cardiovascular disease
- cancer (1/3 of all cancer deaths in the US are linked to excess body weight, poor nutrition and/or physical inactivity) 8
- kidney stones
- fatty liver disease
- erectile dysfunction 1
And that’s not all… Obesity has been linked to more than 60 chronic diseases.8 Obesity in America has increased by over 50%, with 2 of every 3 adults1 and 1 of every 3 children are now overweight or obese. Obesity and overweightness account for about 1 in 10 deaths in the United States, and this epidemic is costing American society $223 billion every year.1
Causes of Obesity
For us to combat this obesity epidemic and prevent or treat obesity in individuals, we first need to understand what causes it. Unfortunately, obesity is a complex problem with causes that can vary from individual case to case. Sometimes it seems genetics are responsible, while hormonal, metabolic, and behavioral factors may play a role in other cases.1
Experts contend that the obesity epidemic is a logical result of our society’s dramatic reduction of physical activity due to industrialization, plus major changes in the food supply around the world over the past 40 years.6
Namely, our increased production and consumption of processed foods, fast food, and sugary drinks are having harmful results on our health.2 3 Research shows that the increased consumption of processed foods strongly correlates with increasing body weight in many countries.2
Obesity in Children
Children are especially susceptible to obesity, because processed food and beverage companies spend billions of dollars every year specifically targeting children.3
One study discovered that children who were exposed to food advertising on TV consumed 45% more food than children who watched non-food advertising.3 In the United States, nearly 40% of all children’s diets come from added sugars and unhealthy fats.3
For years, organizations have been calling for fast food restaurants to improve the nutritional quality of kids meals, and stop marketing unhealthy foods directly to children. However, there has been little improvement over the past 5 or so years.5
Obesity Help: How Can We End the Epidemic?
The most important factors in the obesity epidemic are the increasingly sedentary nature of our work and leisure time activity, plus changes in the food we eat.1 In order to prevent obesity in your own life, experts recommend:
Eating unprocessed or minimally processed whole foods, such as grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, poultry, beans, and plant oils.7
Limiting your consumption of beverages with added sugar, refined grains, potatoes, red and processed meats, and especially avoiding highly processed foods such as fast food.7
Health.harvard.edu. Obesity in America: What's driving the epidemic? - Harvard Health. 2016. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/obesity-in-america-whats-driving-the-epidemic. Accessed January 13, 2016.
Mitchell C. Ultra-processed foods are driving the obesity epidemic in Latin America, says new PAHO/WHO report. Pahoorg. 2015. Available at: http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11180%3Aultra-processed-foods&Itemid=1926&lang=en. Accessed January 13, 2016.
Preventioninstitute.org. The facts on junk food marketing and kids. Available at: http://www.preventioninstitute.org/focus-areas/supporting-healthy-food-a-activity/supporting-healthy-food-and-activity-environments-advocacy/get-involved-were-not-buying-it/735-were-not-buying-it-the-facts-on-junk-food-marketing-and-kids.html. Accessed January 13, 2016.
Andrei M. Why processed foods make you fat: two common food additives linked to obesity and gut inflammation. ZME Science. 2015. Available at: http://www.zmescience.com/medicine/nutrition-medicine/emulsifiers-fat-processed-food-0302015/. Accessed January 13, 2016.
Fastfoodmarketing.org. Fast Food FACTS — Fast Food Facts in Brief. Available at: http://www.fastfoodmarketing.org/fastfoodfactsinbrief.aspx. Accessed January 13, 2016.
James W. The fundamental drivers of the obesity epidemic. - PubMed - NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2008. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18307693. Accessed January 13, 2016.
Obesity Prevention Source. Food and Diet. 2012. Available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/diet-and-weight/. Accessed January 13, 2016.
Obesitycampaign.org. The Campaign to End Obesity. Available at: http://www.obesitycampaign.org/obesity_facts.asp. Accessed January 13, 2016.