Despite raised awareness about the risks associated with being overweight, the rate of obesity, especially in affluent countries, continues to climb. Naturally, obesity-related health issues such as hypertension, diabetes and depression have seen a similar increase in prevalence. From 2003 and 2004 to 2013 and 2014, the rate of obesity in American adults jumped from 34% to 38% – a whopping 6% hike in a mere decade.
Our failure to curtail obesity and its associated health issues is evidence of ineffective mitigation strategies. Though people are aware of the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, many are unsure of what exactly that entails.
The truth is that many factors contribute to obesity, and all of them must be addressed in order to control weight. Scientific research suggests that, in particular, processed foods, certain chemicals, overuse of antibiotics, inactivity, and lack of sleep are some of the main culprits that contribute to obesity and general poor-health.
When it comes to the quality of food, science has dispelled the myth that all calories are identical. Research shows that what you eat has a significant impact on how much you eat, so it is important to pay attention to the quality of your diet instead of simply trying to balance calorie consumption and calorie expenditure. Specifically, research has shown that bread, refined sugars, and processed foods trigger overeating, while whole vegetables, protein and fibre inhibit hunger.
Unfortunately, the convenience, popularity and widespread availability of processed foods have caused a detrimental shift in the American diet over the last half century. Many people are making an effort to improve their health by increasing their amount of physical activity, but it’s important to note that while exercise is important, it is impossible to exercise your way out of a poor diet.
In addition to poor diet, a number of chemicals have been found to contribute to obesity by interfering with hormones. Examples of detrimental chemicals include bisphenol-A(BPA), PCBs, phthalates, triclosan, pesticides, and fire retardants. Some agricultural chemicals, such as glyphosate, may also affect weight regulation and health by killing healthy gut bacteria. Some synthetic chemicals such as heavy metals, solvents, polychlorinated biphenyls, organophosphates, phthalates, and bisphenol-A have also displayed endocrine-disrupting effects, even at below-toxic levels.
The overuse of antibiotics has also been linked to obesity and general health problems. A growing body of research suggests that this is due to the disruption of the body’s microbiome, which is essential for metabolism. Unfortunately, the primary source of excessive antibiotic exposure is through diet. The USA uses approximately 30 million pounds of antibiotics per year to ward off disease and to promote weight gain in livestock, and research suggests these same effects can be observed in humans.
On top of processed foods, chemicals and excessive antibiotics, research has established that lack of sleep also plays a pivotal role in weight-control. In fact, people who get less than seven hours of sleep per night usually have a higher body mass index (BMI) than those who sleep seven or more hours. This is because lack of sleep causes multiple metabolic changes to occur in the body; among other things, sleep deprivation causes an increased appetite, food cravings (especially for sugars/starches), and a decrease in the sensitivity of insulin receptors. These effects increase the risk of diabetes and often lead to weight gain.
Scientific research has made it evident that weight-control requires effort above and beyond simply counting calories – it requires physical activity, sufficient sleep, avoidance of harmful chemicals, and a diet low in processed foods, refined sugars, and antibiotic-ridden meat.
If you’re overwhelmed at the prospect of shopping for healthy, non-processed foods, just remember to choose whole foods that are organic if possible, and to opt for organic, grass-fed meats. These general guidelines will help you reduce sugar intake, processed fats and antibiotics, and will also decrease your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.