We’re losing the war on weight. Overweight and obesity rates are on the rise, even in children. Along with the extraneous weight come the associated chronic diseases: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and immune system dysfunction, to name the worst. (1) The rate of obesity worldwide has almost doubled since 1980. (2)
A 2012 review of the obesity epidemic states:
“Despite growing recognition of the problem, the obesity epidemic continues in the U.S., and obesity rates are increasing around the world. The latest estimates are that approximately 34% of adults and 15–20% of children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese. Obesity affects every segment of the U.S. population. Obesity increases the risk of many chronic diseases in children and adults. The epidemic of obesity arose gradually over time, apparently from a small, consistent degree of positive energy balance…Because of the complexity of obesity, it is likely to be one of the most difficult public health issues our society has faced…Since the 1970s, the prevalence of obesity has increased throughout the U.S. adult population–among men and women of all ethnic groups, ages, and educational and socioeconomic levels.” (3)
Unexplained Weight Gain
The problem of obesity can’t be distilled to one factor—it is the result of many. One thing is for certain: people are generally more overweight than their ancestors and find it much more difficult to lose weight than they did.
Using data from a study of over 36,000 Americans that covered the years from 1971 to 2008, a 2015 York University (Toronto) study attempted to determine the correlations among caloric intake, nutrient intake, and amount of physical activity with obesity. The findings are somewhat surprising: compared to 1988 for a given the amount of calories, the quality of the calories, and the amount of time spent engaging in physical activities, the expected body mass index (BMI) increased by 2.3kg/m2, or about 10% heavier. This led researchers to conclude that there are factors other than how much you eat, what you eat, and how much you exercise when it comes to how much weight you gain. (4)
It’s Not Just About Calories
The York University study demonstrated that addressing the problem of being overweight has to take a broader view than only diet and exercise, though these are a given.
When it comes to losing weight, there’s more to the equation than “energy in versus energy out”, i.e., the number of calories you eat versus how many you burn. Our bodies are affected by environmental and lifestyle factors that must be considered. (5)
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Weight Gain Factors
We are surrounded by human-made chemicals. They’re in our food, water, air, packaging, building materials, and personal care and household products. As the effects of these chemicals are studied, science is finding that many of them seriously mess up human physiology. Many chemicals (called obesogens) are known to cause weight gain and a resistance to weight loss by disrupting the endocrine system. (6)
- Plastics and metals used in grocery packaging leach into the food (e.g., BPA, aluminum), making it toxic. These substances accumulate in the body—in adipose (fat) tissue.
- Chemicals are added to municipal water supplies to kill potentially harmful micro-organisms. Fluoride is also added to the water in many areas, presumably to prevent tooth decay. The truth of the matter is that there is no definitive proof that fluoridated water decreases the risk for dental cavities. Additionally and more importantly, fluoride is a neurotoxin that disrupts thyroid function and is a contributor to obesity.
- Many personal care products contain xenoestrogens: chemicals that act like estrogen in the body. A few of the many potentially harmful consequences of long-term use of these products are hormone disruption, development of metabolic abnormalities, and weight gain. (7)
- Chemicals and metals in the air we breathe contribute to many illnesses and diseases, obesity and diabetes among them. What we take in through our lungs and skin goes directly into the bloodstream and is distributed throughout the body, nutrients and toxins alike.
Most of these substances didn’t exist 100 years ago; they are a modern challenge to human health.
Emulsifiers, coloring, preservatives, flavoring, and pesticides in and on our food are causing inflammation, illness, and disease. The more a food is processed, the less nutritional value it retains. Even fresh produce is questionable: the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides, along with genetic modification and varietal reduction, are detracting from inherent nutrition of vegetables and fruits.
One example is triflumizole (TFZ), a common fungicide sprayed on food crops. It has been shown to cause weight gain in mice and to put their fetuses at significantly higher risk for developing obesity than mice not exposed to TFZ. (8)
Organic is the way to go.