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Many people seek help from their Rochester nutritionist for help with weight loss. The rise in obesity rates in the US is going on its 40th year with no end in sight. Today 37% of men and 41% of women in the US are obese. A few years ago, there were reports that suggested that the rates may be slowing down, but the data as of recently seems to be conflicting with this theory. It is easy to simply blame the Covid pandemic, but these problems have been around significantly longer than the last 2 years. So what is to blame for the obesity epidemic?

Since the 1920s, obesity has risen from 1 in 30 to closer to 1 in 3. If we look closely at the data, the rise in obesity was not a steady climb, but actually, a big jump that began in the 1970s. These numbers aren’t just for the United States; that decade saw a rapid increase in obesity across the entire industrialized world. There are multiple theories looking into what the potential triggers may have been.

Obesity epidemic theories

Any potential trigger for the obesity epidemic would need to have had a global impact that specifically caused an upswing in the last 40 to 50 years. At first, it was theorized that shifts in living environments have created a system where walking or biking is less reasonable as a means of transportation. While trends do show a shift from urban to suburban living, these changes have not been universal to all cities and towns. Obesity rates have climbed equally in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

A shift in work has also been theorized for the sudden rise in obesity. Automation, machines, and computers have shifted the type of work over the last 100 years. Jobs today do not require as much physical work as jobs of the past. Unfortunately for this theory, the shift in the industry started back in the early 1900s which doesn’t coincide with the rise in obesity 60 years later.

Both of these theories have something in common, a belief that it’s a lack of activity that is the cause of the obesity epidemic. Despite the lack of connection between the two, activity level is still widely believed to be the primary cause of the obesity epidemic. The fault for this misconception may not be on the public; companies have worked hard to push this false narrative for many years through marketing campaigns.

Lean Washing

The tactic of pushing blame onto consumers has been given the nickname “lean washing”. Companies will pretend to be doing their best to help solve the obesity crisis, but in reality, they are directly contributing to it. One of the best examples of a company that engages in lean washing is Nestle. 

Nestle calls itself “the world's leading nutrition, health, and wellness company”. The company that makes Cookie Crisp, a breakfast cereal that's solely composed of chocolate chip cookies, claims to lead the world in nutrition and health. These large corporations like Nestle like to make blanket statements to shift blame onto consumers even though they are not supported by research. The CEO of PepsiCo in a press release once said “if all consumers exercised, obesity wouldn’t exist”.

Industrialization of calories

The increase in caloric intake over the last 40 years due to the industrialization and commercialization of food has been found to be the most likely cause of the rise in obesity rates. Multiple studies have shown that caloric intake is the strongest predictor for obesity. When put head to head, caloric intake management beat out physical activity management for weight gain—even for individuals who were doing no exercise outside of their daily activities.

People in developed countries have more access to calorie-dense food and naturally tend to consume more calories on average as a result. Companies also spend millions of dollars on advertising these products to the public. The food industry's tactic to blame a lack of activity seems to be working. Recent polls revealed that “lack of physical activity” is the most common response when people are asked about the cause of the obesity epidemic. The reality is that physical activity may have very little to do with the epidemic at all. In fact, studies have shown that although daily physical activity has increased in the US over the last 10 years, obesity continues to rise.

Track, track, and track

Unfortunately, people's belief that a lack of physical activity is responsible for obesity may actually hinder their own ability to lose weight. Studies have shown that individuals who blame insufficient exercise on their weight tend to consume significantly more calories.

Tracking food intake puts a number to how many calories are being consumed in a day. While tracking apps may not be the most accurate, having some general idea allows a person to make better decisions on the food they are eating. There are many high-calorie foods that are unfulfilling. These highly processed foods are specifically designed to be delicious and make you want to eat as much as possible without filling you up.

Once you find the problem foods, it is possible to begin replacing them with healthier alternatives. The goal is to consume less processed foods and replace them with more nutritionally dense whole foods to help fill you up. Non-processed foods tend to be higher in whole grains and fiber, filling you up faster and preventing overeating.

If you are struggling to lose weight and are looking for help tracking foods, schedule an appointment with your Rochester nutritionist. At Rush-Henrietta Family Chiropractic, our chiropractor in Rochester has been helping people learn how to accurately track their meals and understand their nutritional faults. Schedule a free consultation and take back control of your health.