Back in the Day — Obesity History 101

April 22, 2018 / / 3-in-1 program, Motivation, News

Come on now, suppress that yawn; this obesity history lesson will only include the contributing factors to the epidemic, that can be reversed, and hence, be part of the solution. And yes, there have been many more instrumental players to this national crisis since it’s inception in the 1980’s.

The types and amounts of food, the preparation and processing of our foods and when and where we eat has dramatically changed over the past 50 years. As Americans we move less and engage in less physical activity all day long. The combination and culmination of these factors basically explain our current obesity and over weight problem.

Let’s start with the obvious-larger portions. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that cookbook recipes have increased the percent of calories per serving by 40% in the last 70 years. Or, about 77 more calories per serving. The ‘Joy of Cooking’ book, presented a Chicken Gumbo recipe in 1936 that made 14 servings at 228 calories; however, in the 2006 edition, the same number of ingredients made 10 servings at 319 calories. Of course, food eaten outside of the home is responsible for most of our excess calories. In the late 1970’s, restaurant portion inflation began. Supersizing has been a successful marketing ploy and a major contributor to this epidemic. Research has shown that people will most often consume the entire quantity that is presented to them. Over the past 50 years, the percent of the American’s food dollar that is spent outside the home has doubled: currently we spend more than 47% away from home. Quick-service establishments and fast food restaurants are usually the away from home choice. Over the last several decades, the socioeconomic changes, such as more women being employed outside the home, many more single-parent households and longer work hours and commutes, have effected where families obtain their meals. Fast food is cheaper, faster, and more convenient than more traditional home-style restaurants. Fast food chains serve 50 million customers per day. McDonalds alone serves an average of 75 hamburgers every second. According to the National Restaurant Association the average person eats out an average of 4 times a week. Plus, 20% of meals are eaten in our vehicles.

Food advertisements are dominated by fast food, sweets, convenience and snacks. These cues have influenced our eating-how often and what we eat. Likewise, the Frappuccino commercial is so well constructed that it intensely affects our emotions and desire to consume one of their heavenly and well deserved treats. This type of advertising campaign has been so effective that 60-70% of Americans consume specialty coffees and these sugar laden fluids are a part of our overall increase in sugar intake.

The way our foods are processed have changed their nutritional value; by processing whole grains into white flour there is a reduction in the amount of fiber by 80% and protein by 30%, an increase in the calories by 10 percent, which basically leaves a pure starch without nutritional ingredients.These processed foods are the most profitable, not what is the best for us.

Sugar consumption has dramatically increased over the last several decades.

In the 1950’s the average American consumed 34 sugar cubes (or 136 grams) and no high fructose corn syrup (because it was not widely used until 1977). During the 80’s, 39 sugar cubes and 6 teaspoons of HFCS. Fast forward to 2013: 47 sugar cubes (188 grams) and 10 teaspoons of HFCS. On average, Americans are eating 130 pounds of sugar a year, or 450 extra calories a day from added sugar. Currently, 20% of our carb intake and 10% of our total intake comes from HFCS. Forget Rocky Mountain High, hello sugar high.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, there was a widespread promotion to reduce fat in our diets and with this came an increase in carbohydrates, but our waist lines continued to expand. In the early 70’s each American ate 136 pounds of cereal and flour, and now it’s 200; in the form of potatoes, pasta and breads. This eager consumption of refined carbs has rapidly overtaken the evolution of our metabolism to effectively deal with them.

The HFCS is added to foods to make them taste better and to increase shelf life. Some scientist believe that these mega doses of fructose interfere with our digestive system, hormones, our bodies’ ability to naturally regulate appetite and our brains. And, that this excess sugar has fueled our obesity epidemic.

According to the American Heart Association sugar-sweetened beverages, including sodas, are the primary source of added sugar in our diets.

The American Beverage Association says that Americans consume on average, more than 54 gallons of carbonated soda each year, making pop 3 times more popular than water, tea or coffee. Sugary beverages are absorbed directly from the stomach and create a rapid rise in blood glucose, but the brain doesn’t take into consideration these calories when trying to calculate the nutritional needs of the day. These drinks can add 300-3000 extra calories per day. Ouch!


Gross et al revealed after an assessment of national data between 1909 and 1997, that our fiber intake decreased by 40% and our corn syrup intake increased by 2100%, at the same time, with paralleling results, with the upward trend of diabetes and obesity in our country.

Eating breakfast by adults is associated with lower BMIs and waist circumferences.

In the 1970’s and 80’s almost everyone ate breakfast; today only 56% of Americans report that they eat the most important meal of the day on a regular basis.

Sleep deprivation is getting worse: In 1960, the American Cancer Society reported that the national sleep duration was between 8 -8.9 hours, in 1995, the National Sleep Foundation said Americans were getting 7 hours of sleep a night, and in 2008, 30% of men and women, between the age of 30-64 report less than 6 hours of sleep per night. 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep problem, with 75% of adults frequently having a sleep problem.

The environmental toxin Bisphenol A (BPA) appears to negatively affect your hunger hormones, how your body stores fat and your metabolism. This chemical that has been used to make plastics since 1961.

According to Harvard Magazine, “the most powerful technology driving the obesity epidemic is television.” They believe that only a third of the TV’s negative impact has to do with the sedentary lifestyle, and the remaining effect has to do with advertising directed at changing the way you eat.

In the last half- century, our daily lives have become increasingly immobile because of technology. The design of public spaces and buildings discourage physical activity. Cities are designed for cars, not for a healthy way for people to get around. Remotes, automatic machines that decrease NEAT.

These factors are culminating and cofounding. Wedding vows include ‘in sickness and in health’ but few people realize that sickness includes weight gain and obesity. Compared to there dating friends, there is 230% increase in likelihood that both of the newlyweds will become obese. Ladies who live with their mate usually gain 18 pounds, and there risk of obesity starts to increase within 1 year of moving in together, newly married women gain an average of 24 pounds and over five years, a woman who is dating will gain 15 pounds, or have a 63% increase in obesity. Their partners usually unconsciously mirror the increase in food intake, but don’t gain quite as much, because they can consume more calories than women without an increase in size. So, weight gain among guys only spikes between the first and second year of getting married or moving in together.

And so on and so forth, upward and outward.



Author: Dr. Becky

Dr. Becky is a board-certified Obesity and Gynecology physician with over 30 years’ experience providing support and guidance for her patients.

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Rebecca Burdette, MD

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