That is the big question

The phrase “obesity crisis” has arguably become one of those tedious tabloid clichés many of us have become numb to. Seeing a headline with the words “obesity crisis” in it, many people simply turn the page to something new. Tell us something we don’t know, right?

Well, how about this:

Almost 70% of men in the UK are officially overweight or obese. Almost 57% of women in the UK are officially overweight or obese. And more than a quarter of children in the UK are officially overweight or obese.

And how about this:

According to a study published in the Lancet, people have been getting fatter and fatter over the past three decades, with almost 30% of people on EARTH now officially overweight or obese.

So there you go: this crisis IS a crisis, and we should pay attention because it’s directly linked to rising levels of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and much more. But how did things get so bad?

Well, there was no ONE trigger. You can’t explain away a crisis of this staggering scale by pointing at one moment in time. The fact is, culture as a whole has evolved to make people fat. And there have been lots of influences on that evolution. I’ve laid some of these influences out in this infographic which looks specifically at the US situation.

And now let’s touch on some of the most important influences that have literally changed the shape of humanity over the years.

Big Agriculture

You don’t have to be a hardcore Atkins eater to accept that rising obesity is linked to the mountains of processed carbs people are consuming. This sorry situation arose, in large part, thanks to government policy in the West. Want a glaring example? Look up Earl Butz, who became US Secretary of Agriculture in 1971.

He threw away earlier policies to curb corn production in the States and encouraged the creation of vast commercial farms at the expense of smaller, family-run operations. His actions directly led to skyrocketing amounts of processed corn and high fructose corn syrup in American diets. Big profits for Big Agriculture, bigger waistlines for the consumers.

Bad science

Flawed studies and biased research has also helped make us fat. Various scientists were determined to make dietary fat the bogeyman. One of them was Ancel Keys, the father of anti-fat hysteria, who published epic studies “proving” that cholesterol and saturated fats were the main culprits behind heart disease. Except we now know he actively ignored heaps of data that contradicted his beliefs.

Thanks to “experts” like Keys, doctors and nutritionists made fat the bad guy, and carbs (or sugar) the good guy. Hence the now-notorious USDA Food Pyramid of the 1990s, which advised everyone to eat a whopping 6 to 11 portions of bread, pasta, rice and other starchy bulk every day.

Food manufacturers were forced to lower the fat in the products they produced. Obviously, lowering fat took away the taste of the food, so what did they replace it with? Sugar, whether it’s common sucrose or it’s cheap and dodgy substitute, high fructose corn syrup. And it’s only recently that the media has shone a light on the havoc sugar can cause, from insulin surges to fat creation.

Convenience foods

Another major factor in the history of obesity has been the rise of quick, ready-made foods. I’m sure I don’t need to talk much more about this – we all know the story here – but I would like to emphasise that so-called “healthy” low-fat snacks and ready meals are just as bad for the waistline. It’s the sugar, in the form of the simple carbs that many snacks contain, that makes your body store up fat, and makes hormones go haywire.

What can you do?

With such cultural forces affecting what and how we eat, is it any wonder there’s an obesity epidemic? Here are my pointers on how to avoid being another government statistic.

  • If you’re struggling with your weight, don’t blame yourself and don’t lose morale. Recognise that your habits have been formed by the culture we live in.
  • Understand that fat isn’t the bogeyman, and that evidence points to simple, processed carbs – that’s bread and pasta as well as crisps and biscuits – being responsible for the rise in obesity.
  • See sugar and trans-fats as the real things to avoid or at least cut down.
  • When in doubt, go back to basics. Eat food your ancestors would have recognised. Whole grains, vegetables and meats you cook yourself. It’s what your body evolved to eat, and it’s the surest way to keep the weight down.

For more tips on sustainable weight loss, sign-up for our Healthy Habits newsletter: