What's driving the Obesity Epidemic?

6 August 2012


Where do you begin with the epidemic called Obesity? While I work in an environment of Health & Wellness, with every member at the Y striving to make the change to a healthy, active lifestyle, obviously millions of Americans are not. The authors of Harvard Men’s Health Watch (2012) address several key socioeconomic variables that could be factors. The Facts:

  • In less than 40 years, obesity has increased 50%, so that 66% of Americans are now overweight or obese.
  • Obesity and overweight account for one of every 10 American deaths, and will cost the taxpayers $223 billion a year.

What’s the Reason? Today’s Work— In 1960, half the jobs in the private sector required physical activity. Today, it’s less than 20%. In 1960, the average American burned 142 calories a day more than today, and weighed 169 pounds. Between 2003–2006, he weighed 202 pounds. Today’s Lifestyles— Today, only 5% of American adults get enough exercise in their leisure time. Americans spend 55% of that time sitting down. Their leisure sitting time…watching TV. A 2011 European study found that TV watching was linked to a 6% increase in the risk of developing heart disease. A separate meta-analysis reported that each hour of TV was linked to a 10% increase in diabetes; a 7.5% increase in heart disease and 6.5% increase in the death rate! Today’s Diet— A long-term UNC study of over 44,000 Americans 19+ years old found these patterns: over the first 15 years of the study, average caloric intake increased. "Super size" became a bad word and the trend reversed…for a while. In the latter half of the time frame, while Americans ate smaller portions, they are more often (probably in front of the TV). Today, both portion size and frequency account for an average 28 calories per day increase. It doesn’t sound like much until you annualize it…three pounds per year. Over 30 years of the study…close to 100 pounds. What to do?

  1. Rethink the diet. Poor diet vs. healthy diet results in 1.4 pounds annually. More veggies, fruits, and whole grain. Less processed foods, snacks, and sodas. Simple, right? (Simple in theory, but our Y-Change programs will help you take steps to putting that theory to action)
  2. Exercise (or at least vigorous physical activity). Go take a walk! Or come see us at the Y!
  3. Cut back on TV watching. Each hour watching TV can add 0.8 pounds.
  4. Get enough sleep. People who slept the right amount (between 6–8 hours / night) experienced the least weight gain.
  5. Be cautious with alcohol. Even 1 drink a day can add 10 pounds a year.

Medical research is full of conflicting theories and the answer is not simple. However, to do nothing is surely not the answer. *Reference: Harvard Men’s Health Watch (2012) Obesity in America: What’s driving the epidemic? Harvard Health Publications, Copyright 2012 by President and Fellows of Harvard College, All rights reserved. February 2012.