Obesity has gotten so out of control that it’s been labeled an epidemic. Currently there are 120 million Americans who are obese, and it is forecasted that that number will rise to 165 million by 2050. Sedentary life is becoming the norm and any type of physical activity, no matter how small the dose, is becoming an afterthought. The result is excessive weight gain that is no longer found to be only affecting adults. Millions of children are either overweight or obese and, in consequence, are suffering from diseases like high-blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. However, obesity doesn’t discriminate, and here are 8 reasons why it’s skyrocketing.
Environment plays a major role in weight gain. Lack of sidewalks makes commuting to work via alternative, non-auto modes of transportation like walking or biking. Limited access to park space or workout facilities can also contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. Too much technology and time spent sitting in front of the computer or TV or playing video games all contribute to weight gain and obesity.
To piggyback of time spent in front of the TV and its contribution toward a sedentary lifestyle, what is on the TV also factors into weight gain. Commercials advertising high-calorie, convenient foods that come in colorful packages are bombarding viewers. They are also loaded with sugar, fat and a laundry list of ingredients most people find difficult to pronounce. While they may look appealing, cost a little and even taste delicious, a lot of the foods advertised on TV are full of empty calories, loads of preservatives and thus, major contributors to weight gain.
2. Supersize it
In the United States, portion size has gotten out of control. Since the 1960s, portion sizes offered by restaurants have as much as quadrupled…and people aren’t taking home leftovers. Countless movies are being made to address the problem (Super Size Me, Food, Inc.), as well as offer solutions (Food Fight). Cheaper, less healthy food options that come pre-made and pre-packaged are more readily available than whole food, healthy options, putting healthy eating at a deficit to stopping at places like McDonald’s or Burger King.
Fast foods aren’t the only culprits in contributing to weight gain. Perhaps the biggest culprit is junk food. Late night snacking, drinking soda and alcohol at any time, day or night, can influence weight gain.
Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what type of environment a person is surrounded by or how healthily they eat. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of genetics. Some people are simply predisposed to pack on a few more pounds. The reason is not that there is an actual “obesity gene” but that a person’s genetic make-up determines how their body will store and breakdown food.
The “thrifty genotype” hypothesis works to explain the current state of excessive weight gain by looking at genetics and the environment. By looking to the past and how previous generations survived famines, the “thrifty genotype” hypothesis looks at “energy-thrifty genes” that helped people survive when food sources were unpredictable. Now, with more than enough food being readily available in industrialized nations, those “energy-thrifty genes” are being challenged.
4. Medical Issues and Medications
Being overweight can cause health issues like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes, but weight gain and obesity can also be caused by certain medical issues. Prader-Willi syndrome, Cushing’s syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome have all been linked to obesity. Musculoskeletal issues like arthritis can make everyday activities challenging, let alone exercise and, therefore, contribute to weight gain. In addition, certain medications have been linked to weight gain, including steroids, beta blockers, diabetes medications and some anti-seizure and anti-depression medicines.
5. Sleep Deprivation
Maintaining a healthy weight is largely about maintaining balance, and getting enough sleep is one component in maintaining that balance. Sleep is related to insulin in the body. The amount of sleep a person gets directly affects how the body reacts to insulin, which is the hormone in the body responsible for regulating glucose, or sugar, in the blood. Sleep deprivation can raise blood sugar and put a person at risk for diabetes. Seven hours of sleep per night is said to do the trick toward staving off weight gain.
When people don’t get enough sleep they also tend to eat more, and they especially tend toward eating more carbohydrates. This is because eating more gives a boost of energy, but it’s a temporary boost, which causes the eating cycle to repeat again and again throughout the day. In addition to regulating blood sugar, sufficient sleep helps to maintain a balance between the hormones that determine when a person is hungry or full.
According to this infographic, in the year 1822, the average American consumed 45 grams of sugar every 5 days – the quantity found in today’s 12 ounce soda drink. In 2012, the sugar consumption has increased 17 fold to 765 grams of sugar every 5 days. In other words, the average American consumes about 125 LBS of sugar each year.
Sugar is made up of glucose and fructose. Although glucose is a critical part of our metabolism and is vital to life, fructose is not. Fructose causes insulin resistance, which leads to the body not being able to easily access stored fat, causing the brain to think we’re hungry, even though we’re really not.
Sugar is addicting – just like drugs such as cocaine, sugar triggers dopamine and opiate activity in the rewards centers of the brain. This leads us to keep eating more of it, leading to overeating and eventually obesity.
People are spending more and more time off their feet and in a chair, in a car or on a couch. A sedentary lifestyle is the enemy of weight loss. Technology, longer commuting times, and longer hours at the office play a major part in the rise in people who are overweight or obese.
Many people working in an office work through their lunch hour, or take a break long enough to run down to the company cafeteria and grab something before they hurry back to their cubicle (by elevator) in order work while they eat.
Busier lifestyles also promote on-the-go eating. Many households now have both parents working outside the home so take out becomes common place when no one’s home to prepare a well-rounded, healthful meal. Breakfast either gets skipped, is obtained from a fast food chain or handed to kids as they run out the door. Family dinners are happening with less frequency than ever before, and when they do happen, they’re often short and not without some sort of technology, like texting or watching TV.
Tuning technology out and sitting down to dinner can have major benefits beyond strengthening family ties. Kids who share at least three family meals per week are less likely to become overweight and more likely to make smarter eating choices.
8. Fighting the “Secretary Spread”
“Secretary Spread” is a term thrown around offices far and wide. It is the result of too much sitting in an office chair, which causes an enlarging of the thighs and buttocks. In order to prevent or combat Secretary Spread, office workers should opt to take the stairs over taking the elevator whenever possible and should get up and stretch every so often throughout the day, even sneaking in a few squats, lunges and desk push-ups.
In addition, as mentioned above, those working in office settings should get outside during their lunch hours instead of spending lunch eating – and sitting – at their desks. If there is no safe place to walk, those threatened by Secretary Spread should walk the stairs a few times or do a few laps around the office.