With New Year’s eve fast approaching, I thought it might be a good time to address some issues related to body weight. After all, nearly half of New Year’s resolutions will involve weight loss, and most will fail (US News and World Report). My intention is to provide you with some good “food for thought” and, ultimately, some realistic and achievable resolutions related to body weight.
State of the Union
As you may already know, the United States has what’s called an obesity “epidemic”. According to the Centers for Disease Control, fully two thirds of Americans are considered overweight or obese (see figure below for data on individual states). The good news is that obesity rates have largely leveled off in recent years. The bad news is that negative health and social consequences associated with overweight and obesity continue to plague the majority of Americans.
To the uniformed, overweight and obesity appear to be caused by simply eating too much and/or not exercising enough. However, no biological system or phenomenon is that simple. There are myriad factors that contribute to high rates of overweight and obesity in the United States. Some of these factors are controllable, others are not.
Nature vs. nurture
Let’s first address factors that are, for the most part, uncontrollable. These factors include our genes (a.k.a. “nature”) and the social environment in which we live (a.k.a. “ nurture”).
Do genes cause obesity? The short answer is no – it’s not that simple! But there is strong evidence that genes make some people more prone to weight gain than others. For example, the Pima Indians of southern Arizona have been identified as having a genetic “thrifty metabolism”, which causes them to burn fewer calories than people with “normal” metabolic rates. It just so happens that the Pima Indians also have the highest rates of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes in America.
However, if obesity was solely or centrally linked to our genes, then why the sudden rise in American obesity rates? Our genes evolved over thousands of years, but the U.S. obesity epidemic sprang up in only 20-30 years. While genes may play a role in overweight and obesity, “nurture” factors are much more likely to blame for the current state of affairs.
Food for thought
Next week’s blog post will explore nurture factors related to overweight and obesity in the United States. In the meantime, can you think of ten specific nurture factors on your own? What social and/or environmental factors have changed over the past few decades that may have contributed to the rise in overweight and obesity? What social and/or environmental factors differ among states with the lowest rates of obesity (e.g., Colorado) vs. states with highest rates of obesity (e.g., Mississippi)?
Centers for Disease Control website for “Overweight and Obesity”. Accessed December 15th, 2013: www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/
US News and World Report. Accessed December 15th, 2013: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/12/13/how-to-make-realistic-new-years-resolutions