According to the World Health Organization, obesity numbers are rising in nearly every country. Still, in the U.S., two-thirds of adults and one-third of school-age children are considered overweight or obese. The numbers of obese individuals of all ages have risen drastically since the 1960s; some reports suggest a rise of 50% in adults and nearly 300% in children.
The increase in obesity is troubling, and this is not to dig at body positivity. Obesity has well-established health risks and significantly shortens expected lifespans. Unfortunately, many medical professionals and regular people believe that the significant contributors to weight gain are genetics and a lack of self-control. While both can contribute to weight issues, some experts are beginning to argue a person’s environment could be equally or more to blame.
Genetics and a Lack of Willpower Do Not Account for Recent Obesity Increases
The idea that genetics and a lack of willpower explain the extraordinary increases in the obesity epidemic over the last several decades is preposterous. While genetics and psychological factors can play a role in weight gain, there is no reason or evidence to suggest there have been significant changes in neither the human genome nor culture to explain a 50% to 300% gain. In fact, what we know about biology suggests that such a drastic change is improbable, if not impossible.
Still, doctors continue to tell overweight and obese patients to restrict their diets, to stop overeating — as do the health websites and diet books. The advice seems counter-intuitive from what we know about food triggers, especially for those individuals triggered by emotional states.
The advice can come across as chastising and demeaning. Many people struggling with their weight go through bouts of self-blame and depression because they cannot seem to control something that everyone seems to agree is straightforward — eat less, lose weight.
If genetics and a lack of willpower can account for the rise in obesity, why have the numbers risen so drastically in the last five to six decades? The obesity rates do not represent genetic changes or shifts in individual psychology; they represent significant changes in the social complex, the environment in which one lives and works.
Nutritional Norms and the Toxic Environment
Over the past several decades, society’s relationship with food has changed drastically. Much of that change has involved a new dietary atmosphere, one where cheap, energy-dense, and heavily marketed foods are given superior positioning in the marketplace. Additionally, restaurants competing for business and the relative cheapness of unhealthy food options have led to drastic portion increases.
Think about it: every day, when you are driving to and from work, how many fast-food chains do you pass? The world is focused more on junk food than whole food. The bulk of grocery aisles are filled with prepackaged, boxed, canned, and heavily preserved foods, meaning that sugar, sodium, and countless other additives have become unnecessary staples in individual diets.
Add to the abuse of marketing for profitability over health, and you will also see a growth in the sedentary lifestyle. Smart devices, streaming services, virtual reality, home delivery, online shopping, etc., lead to a path of least resistance. Products and services continue to peddle ways to remain inactive while being productive.
While technology and convenience items — even foods — are beneficial, the pervasive and intrusive nature of marketing significantly fractures individual defenses and motivates unhealthy behavior. Sad as it is, there is nothing inherently illegal about any of it. It is no wonder the environment, your surroundings play a significant role in weight maintenance.