It’s Because We Became Lazy – US Obesity Problem

Posted: September 30, 2013 in NERDSTEAK - Brain Food
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ID-100142619The American diet as it relates to calories has actually changed very little over the past 80 years.  There has been a switch from a high carbohydrate and animal fat diet in the past, to a high vegetable fat based, higher protein diet in more recent years.  We also have the addition of increased fiber, understanding of healthy fats, as well as an increase in raw vegetable and fruit consumption.  This shift, specifically over the last 40 years, does not proportionally match the increase in the obesity problem. So what is the cause?

Due to the breakthroughs in technology, the average calorie expenditure of individuals has DRASTICALLY decreased, especially starting in the 80’s.  A reduction in jobs requiring manual labor, new modes of transportation, and a huge increase in the tech. industry has wiped out the need for the population to get their hands dirty, focusing more on computer skills and less on physical activity, as well as the use of things like the internet, TV, and video games.  (For the record, I love the internet, TV, and video games.) This basically means that the diets of the average person has remained relatively unchanged (with a slow and steady caloric increase,) while our way of life has drastically reduced general physical activity.  In the 60’s over half of the private jobs required some kind of manual labor, but now it is less than 16%.

Although red meat still reigns supreme in the US diet over the past years, chicken consumption increased drastically since the 1970’s as did the average fruit and vegetable daily intake.  Although the vegetable and salad oil use has increased a good amount over this same time period, most likely due to the availability of fried foods and snacks, the use of butter and margarine spreads at meal times has decreased along with a huge swing from whole milk to lower fat varieties.  There has been an obvious increase in carbohydrate consumption over the years due to things like HFCS as well, but as stated before, this does not proportionately reflect the skyrocketing obesity rates. Also, the diets of previous years had a larger portion of calories coming from carb. sources like breads, pasta, white rice and potatoes.

Americans have drastically increased in eating out as opposed to cooking at home, but the options available at restaurants have shifted to healthier options, even if a good portion of consumers still do not choose them.  The American consumer also forged the path to larger portion size.  They demanded greater value and their purchasing habits reflected this, however the actually content of the food has remain steady of the years, which supports the fact that the food industry should not be directly to blame for this obesity epidemic, but the US lifestyle should.  Just like any industry, it reacts to the purchasing habits of its consumers, and the food industry is no exception. That being said, the food industry could defiantly do a better job in promoting low calorie, fresher foods.

I just want to leave you with one more interesting fact…the average person is now 33 pounds heavier then they were in the 60’s and also burn almost 200 less calories a day, which can account for almost 60% of those extra pounds.  Add just a bit more of physical activity, we can start shedding the weight.


  1. bgddyjim says:

    Your theory (or hypothesis?) makes a lot of things make a lot of sense. Great post.

  2. Anna says:

    I was just talking to my students about nutrition… I should have them read this post 🙂 There are a lot of factors that can contribute to being overweight, and less physical activity is definitely one of them!

  3. I know you talked about making lower calorie, fresh foods… but then I think of BK’s new low-fat french fries… which would be pretty freshly made each day! And it seems like there will always be a trade off like in low fat foods which just add in more sugar. Or low sugar foods which place substitutes which are bodies have never been exposed to or their effects studied over long periods of time. The initial cost of buying and time spent making foods in this fast-paced, convenience culture is too simply too steep for most. (Not that I don’t think it’s good!)

  4. sthuene says:

    As one of the commentators said above, Americans are for a variety of reasons. It it is any consolation, other post-industrialized nations and not so post-industrialized nations are catching up too. We Americans (I am natualized citizen), eat too much, drink (not make that guzzle) drinks from *huge* soda glass – no make that barrel, and drive 400 meter to buy a stamp. I have seen you making bacon salad :). That does not help either. Ahem ahem.

  5. EB32 says:

    Do you have any sources for the statistics you’re using to craft this theory? While I completely agree that sedentary behavior is largely to blame for our country’s collective waist-size expansion, your story and data feel cherry-picked to support a theory you already had (that restaurants and food are not to blame).

    • chefman316 says:

      My sources come from the U.S. Department of Health: National Center For Health Statistics, World Health Organization, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Harvard Research articles, Technomic Data, and Mintel consumer research.

      Also my personal experiences in the restaurant and food industry paired with Culinary Nutrition degrees and my personal weigh-loss achievements.

  6. I’d be curious to see how our views on recommended portions have increased over the last few decades …

  7. misha says:

    i like your theory, dude, and i 100 percent agree that the easiest way to stay healthy is to be active. that just seems like common sense to me, and i’m not even certain that you need to cite any sort of statistics to claim that the US is one of the least active nations out there.

    what i am interested in, however, is your claim that the US diet has not changed “calorically” all that much. while this might be true, the percentage of calories we receive from starches and grains massively increased in the early to mid 1960s. the consumption of starches triggers a endocrine response (namely the release of neuropeptide Y), making us hungry faster despite the fact we just ingested complex calories. i think the shift from animal fats, dairy, and fresh veggies to fruits, grains, and low fat meats (like chicken breast) might be equally to blame.

    suffice to say, eat that bacon bowl and lift them weights, buddy. i know i will.

    • chefman316 says:

      We you kind of proved my point…There has been a slow and steady increase in daily caloric intake, with a drastic drop in caloric output. I also stated that where we get those calories have definitely changed over the years however, in past years, remember things like potato, corn, bread, dumplings, rice and pasta were VERY common and used a filler for most meals, we actually eat a greater percent of protein and high fiber content now then we ever have.

  8. Good LORD! FINALLY someone GETS me! I have been saying this exact thing for AGES

  9. No one walks anymore, everyone drives!

  10. Thanks for your interest in “Tails from Paris”. We’re now following your blog.

    Hey ! You know you can treat yourself with a little trip to Paris if you feel like it :

    And you’re back for dinner : we promise !

    Alix & Roxane

  11. Sugarcrush says:

    Great post! I east mostly healthy dishes, but once in a while I jump off the wagon and grab a guilty pleasure like ice cream or chocolate. But one key to eating healthy, even if you diverge occasionally, is portion control. Americans seem to want to supersize everything, especially meals and snacks. Simply cutting portions in half makes a big difference not only in your weight but in your health overall.

  12. Sad but true, It is not only US problem anymore, I have same in my country and 80 % of Europe. BTW greets from Poland.

  13. What a thoughtful post, and so true. The sedentary, tech-centered nature of our lives has other negative effects, as well, such as the skills we now possess–or don’t. Have you read “Shopcraft as Soulcraft” by Matthew Crawford? It’s a very valuable argument for the values of working with your hands.

  14. I got it! Send these people all to the armed forces & get them well trained in doing something other than looking good! Thanks for coming by to see my post of A Change In My Life Increasing My Health. I used to play sports until I messed up & have been working on thinning myself up to get around better. Love it a lot! I love all the posts I have read & thought I would throw in a few funny lines myself on a couple.

  15. uldissprogis says:

    Lack of exercise is not the answer to weight gain because there are 3500 calories in a pound of fat and we only burn about 120 calories exercising about half an hour. Overly processed or refined food and drinks deficient in nutrients and loaded with too much artificial sugar added is what causes messed up metabolisms which put on more weight than necessary. About 30% of the population is genetically favorably endowed and they can eat whatever they want and don’t get overweight from overeating or lack of exercise. You are born fat or get fatter in old age and if you don’t eat right then you get even fatter than what you should be under healthy eating conditions. Exercise will just tone your body and make you feel healthier but not reduce your weight.

    • chefman316 says:

      Some of that information you wrote is not accurate. Burning only 120 calories a half hour would only be walking at a VERY slow pace, although it is beneficial, that doesn’t even come close to what real exercising does, or working in a manual labor trade. Cardio burns fat and calories for energy, while weight training puts on muscle mass which in turn make you naturally burn more calories an hour. Some of the best runners in the world have a diet consisting of over 20% processed sugar to keep up with the demands of their physical activity.
      Just as an example, I burn about 1000 calories and hour when I run.

  16. Global Girl says:

    Depressing stats but you’re so right about the obesity epidemic and the need to increase physical activity!

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