Perhaps the primary reason for the dramatic rise in obesity is the sedentary (inactive) lives led by most Americans, including children and young people. Researchers found that labor saving devices had reduced a person's energy use by over 100 calories a day -- adding up to an extra 11 pounds a year. Half the difference in energy use was due to less walking. At the same time, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1970 and 2000 the typical American man increased his caloric intake by 168 calories a day (good for 17 pounds a year) while the average woman added 335 calories a day.
Regular television watching has been singled as the most hazardous pastime. According to a major 2003 study, for every 2 hours a person spends in front of the TV each day, the risk for obesity increases by 23% and for type 2 diabetes by 14%. In the study, TV watching produced the lowest metabolic rates compared to sewing, playing board games, reading, writing, and driving a car. Just the act of watching TV encourages unhealthy snacking and eating patterns. In addition, the advertising on the television complicates the problem by promoting fast foods, cereal, and snack products that are high in salt, fats, and carbohydrates. Even worse, much of these advertisements are directed at children -- the most vulnerable group.
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Modern Diet and Eating Habits
People are not only eating more food than they did 20 years ago but also replacing home cooking with packaged foods, fast food, and dining out. This behavior, according to studies, places people at higher risk for obesity. Fast foods may be more harmful than restaurant cooking. These foods tend to be served in larger portions. They generally contain more calories and unhealthy fats, and fewer nutritious ingredients, than homemade or restaurant meals. Snack foods and sweet beverages, including juice and soft drinks, are specific problems that add to the increasing rates of obesity.
Frequent small, healthy meals (instead of two or three large daily meals) have been associated with lower weights.
Enough food is produced in the US to supply 3,800 calories every day to each man, woman, and child in the country. This is far more than the average person needs to sustain life. In general, the people who gain weight eat more and their portions are larger than those who do not.
Obesity is dramatically increasing in not only American children and adults but also every country that has adopted similar cultural habits. The World Health Organization now considers obesity to be a global epidemic and a public health problem as more nations become "Westernized." In spite of the proven health risks of obesity, the government, insurance companies, and the medical profession do not spend nearly enough money to balance the commercial and cultural pressures that are producing millions of overweight people.
Review Date: 04/14/2010
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital (4/14/2010).