By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
Whenever you read a book or story focused on weight, the person writing it usually points to a food or ingredient that has increased since obesity has skyrocketed: sugar, wheat, or processed food; or what has gone down such as exercise, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fat intake.
In other words, everyone is blaming the obesity epidemic on something. So who is right and who is wrong?
No one and everyone!
I believe, and I think most health professionals are likely to agree, that there are a variety of factors that have led to our current predicament. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell argues that many little things are the cause of most epidemics.
I have no doubt a tipping point has been reached in national obesity statistics. Here are factors that I believe have helped to “tip” our society’s weight and eating habits.
1. Goodbye to cooking: No one is more appreciative of the women’s movement than I. But when women joined the workforce in larger numbers in the ’70s, family meals and cooking dropped as a priority. Many women rebelled against such duties and a proportion of people having kids now never learned how to cook.
Quick Stat: According to a survey by Impulse Research, one third of people don’t know how to cook
2. A change in food supply: With the demand for convenience, the food industry responded and businesses (unlike moms) sell people what they want, not what they need. We saw an increase in convenient processed food and restaurants gave people value with big-portioned food at reasonable prices.
Quick Stat: In 2000, the U.S. food supply provided 3,800 calories per person, 500 calories more than 1970 and 800 calories more than 1958.
3. Stress and how we eat: Making the mortgage, working long hours and kids’ exploding activities can be stressful, leaving less free time than ever before. As I discussed in this post, stress has been linked to increased weight. Stress also puts food preparation and planning further on the backburner and increases the likelihood of skipped meals, mindless eating, and avoiding the gym and exercise.
Quick Stat: According to the latest American Psychological Association survey, 39 percent of people report their stress has increased over the past year and 44 percent say their stress levels has increased in the last 5 years
4. Physical Activity: On top on everything else, it’s more difficult to get regular activity than ever before. In the old days, walking was woven into the day, today we have to make the time to do it. And with all the stress and mile-long to-do lists, this doesn’t always happen.
Quick Stat: According to the 2010 International Food and Information Council (IFIC) Food and Health Survey, 77 percent of Americans are not meeting government exercise recommendations.
5. Dieting: The answer to the weight dilemma has come in the form of many diets and restrictions — low fat, low carb, no wheat, paleo — none of which have delivered. In fact, dieting has been associated with weight gain over time, not weight loss. Chronic dieting also results in what the authors of Intuitive Eating call the “diet mentality”, making food decisions based on whether a food is good or bad, feeding the vicious cycle of restricting, losing weight, eating pleasurable foods, and gaining weight all over again.
Quick Stat: According to the 2010 IFIC Food and Health Survey, 70 percent of people are concerned with their weight and focus on food to try and lose weight.
But is it really just about food? What if, instead, people tackled the core reasons excess weight or bad habits occurred in the first place? After all, we all have our own tipping points that are as individual as we are, and diets simply don’t address these issues. Someone can go on a healthy diet, for example, but if they don’t get a handle on their stressful lifestyle it will be short-lived.
What do you think? If you’ve struggled with weight or eating well, what little things caused your tipping point? Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our Diet community.