Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Obesity - the 70s and 80s were the perfect storm

I recently started the ketogenic diet (also known as the caveman diet), so a lot of my mental energy is being used researching fat loss and low carb options.
*If you don't know - keto is a diet plan (lifestyle change) that involves only ~25g carbs per day. 70% of your daily calories should come from fat, and 25% from protein. So no grains, corn, potatoes, and very little fruit. As much meat and butter and leafy greens as you can eat! It forces your body to switch from using the easy-burn glucose (sugar from carbs) as energy to instead use your stored lipids (fats) - a process called ketosis.

Also, my mother in law is a diabetes educator at a prominent kids' hospital in the area, so we chat about diet and sugar often.  I've come to the conclusion that the obesity epidemic is the result of a few different things, all stemming from the 70s and 80s:

1. The food pyramid
2. The 'low-fat' movement
3. Invention of video games and readily accessible TV
3a. Social media

See the differences in the waistlines of the general populace?
Sugar is mostly the culprit, but it's been shoved into our timeline in pretty sneaky ways...

source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Information Service.

let me explain...

1. The Food Pyramid
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) first published a dietary recommendations pamphlet in 1894. Then in 1916 they divided the recommendations into five groups; milk and meat, cereal, fruits and vegetables, all fatty foods, and sugars. In 1941, under the prompting of President Franklin Roosevelt, the USDA put the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) into effect. Eventually, the dietary guide was split into four basic food groups (milk, meats, fruits and vegetables, and grains) and printed as a list. The graphic of the food pyramid was first introduced in 1988 (source):

Interestingly, 1988 is the year obesity really got a foothold in the US. Before that, there is very little data mentioning obesity and weight-related problems. There were even ads promoting products to help women gain weight (using bread yeast by the way)

The biggest problem with this food pyramid is the amount of grains it recommends. Maybe back in the 70s when our foods weren't processed the way they were starting in the 80s, grains would be better for us. But it was the 80s that started the boxed food craze! Exorbitant amounts of sugar and preservatives were added to everything from bread to boxed rice, which got us on the track to being hopelessly addicted to all these sneakily sweet treats.

Of course the food pyramid isn't the only issue to blame in an epidemic this size...

2. The Low-Fat Movement
 In the late 1970s, a committee led by Senator George McGovern issued a report advising Americans to lower their risk of heart disease by eating less fat. This recommendation was based on evidence that linked diet to heart disease. Unfortunately, the report wrongly singled out saturated fat as the wicked element in our diet responsible for all our problems. This was the beginning of the low-fat movement. 

This low-fat food manufacturing craze led to the invention of "food-like" products like margarine and high-fructose corn syrup as ways to get around the fact that food without fat is flavorless. They put chemicals and sugar back in to make up for the lack of palate-ability. 

At the same time that all of this was happening, American started eating more of everything. This, too, is no coincidence. Here's why: If I give you a carton of plain sugar and tell you to eat till your heart's content, you won't consume very much. Same thing with butter. But if I put them together, something magical happens. Combine sugar and fat and every one of your evolutionary buttons are pushed. Manufacturers know this. Cravings get activated, brain chemistry starts firing, you can literally eat this stuff 'till you bust. And as I've learned in researching keto, when your body has access to both, it uses the sugar because it's easier and stores the fat. Presto - super fat people who cannot stop eating.

3.  Easily accessible video games, computers, and TVs
I don't really think I need to go into why these products led to inactivity, but since I'm already here, I will. 

A Boston Children's Hospital study (on the corrolation between TV and childhood obesity) done this past year showed that 14-year-old males who reported to paying the most attention to the television show weighed 14.2 pounds more than boys who did not pay as much attention. For females, the difference between the two factors was 13.5 pounds. 

Same could be said of any sedentary activity (like computer time or video games). And cable TV network was distributed en mass in 1972 (with the dissolution of previously strict government regulations.) Cable subscriptions grew to 58% of homes by 2006. As did the number of channels! More channels = more viewing time.

 3a. Social media 
This is related to screen time, but I felt it needed its own sub-category.. Myspace and AOL instant messanger were huge when I was in high school in the early 2000s. It was a fun way to chat with friends, post my thoughts, feelings, and photos on a public page all my own. But it also meant I felt like I was socializing, without leaving the house. This point is purely anecdotal, but as I sit in my computer chair typing on my laptop right now, I'm not socializing. I'm not out in my city walking around being active. I'm sitting. Sedentary and lonely. Sites like Facebook now make it feel like you're a part of peoples' lives without leaving your home. Smells like a recipe for getting fat to me (unless of course you exercise at home - then only your social calendar would be affected).

Obesity in the US
It seems to me that the 70s and 80s were a perfect storm of crappy diet education, fake food, and increased inactivity- leading to the obesity epidemic of today. According to the Center for Disease Control, as of last year, more than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7%) are obese (source: CDC). 

*data from CDC
Obesity rates are increasing…really, really quickly.  At this rate, it is reported that an expected 45% — almost half! — of Americans will be obese by 2020.  Can you imagine?   Seriously, take a minute and just imagine the country in 2020 with almost half of its citizens being at major risk for:
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • arthritis
  • sleep apnea
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes 
I know you might feel like you can't do anything about it, but it's really simple to change your own life... not easy but simple... 

Stop eating processed food. 
Get outside and be active. 
Limit your screen time. 

Yes this way of life takes time, effort, and money, but if you're not putting those things into your health, then nothing else really matters because your life will be cut short. You don't see many obese old people. Some, but not many.  

I'm gonna go for a walk now.
Obesity rates are increasing…really, really quickly.  At this rate, it is reported that an expected 45% — almost half! — of Americans will be obese by 2020.  Can you imagine?   Seriously, take a minute and just imagine the country in 2020 with almost half of its citizens being at major risk for:
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • arthritis
  • sleep apnea
  • stroke
  • type 2 diabetes
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