Causes of Obesity- What’s Really Making People Fat?

More than 2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight or obese[1].

Translation: Nearly three quarters of Americans, children included, have a Body Mass Index equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2 (obese status)[2] and the average clothing size for women is a 14[3].

And it is predicted that if we don’t change our ways, by the year 2050, half of Americans will be obese. Not overweight. Obese[4].

The causes are multifaceted, and the reasons why each individual person becomes overweight may vary but there are clearly some broad misconceptions across the board that are leading people en masse to make the wrong choices when it comes to what they’re putting in their mouths.

For the moment, think about approaching eating from a very common-sense angle, setting aside the science behind why we might want to consider a real paleo diet[5] [6]or why eating red meat is not actually the horrible sin it’s cracked up to be.

Consider, for example, the following:

  1. Is what’s on the plate a naturally occurring food, or did it come from a package, a mix or a can?
  2. How many steps did the items in a meal have to undergo between how it grew, how it ran or how it swam and when it became what it is now?
  3. If food did come in a package with a label, how many of the items listed on that ingredient panel can honestly be identified as a food? Is the label even being reviewed?
  4. Does it really make sense that the total number of calories consumed versus the total number expended is the only thing to factor in when it comes to whether or not one gains weight, loses weight or stays the same weight?
  5. Finally, if one has tried every diet in the book and all have led down the same road, losing weight then gaining back and then some, why repeatedly the same methods that never worked?

All of the above are simple questions, which anyone, regardless of age or educational level, could answer.

Sadly, many aren’t even considering queries like this; factors that for those of us who are actively involved in health or nutrition education that feel so blatantly obvious we’d never consider not asking them!

Why such a disconnect?

For one thing, it’s not that helpful that many a doctor, nurse or healthcare professional has had little to no education on what real nutrition truly is, let alone its role in healing or in keeping the body from developing disease in the first place.

Medical students received 19.6 contact hours of nutrition instruction during their medical school careers (range: 0–70 hours); the average in 2004 was 22.3 hours. Only 28 (27%) of the 105 schools met the minimum 25 required hours set by the National Academy of Sciences; in 2004, 40 (38%) of 104 schools did so[7].

In addition, there’s the angle of how much profit there is to be made by the diet industry, a multi billion dollar business banking on your failure to stick to a range of restrictive, unsustainable and potentially dangerous eating approaches that focus on rapid weight loss, a cleanse or detox or something equally as trendy, many of which completely overlook some fundamental basics of eating and weight gain.

Pardon my French here, but if you’re eating crap, you can’t possibly expect your body to look or feel as good as it would if you weren’t.

Yes, eating less junk is better than eating more junk and for some, tapering off the salty, corn-syrupy, refined items as healthy foods and exercise are introduced simultaneously may work.

For many others, however, a cold-turkey approach is the only way to go.



White sugar is in everything.

And if there’s not enough in a product, based on not enough sales, the producers of many a packaged foodstuff item will simply add more.

In Michael Moss’ book, Salt, Sugar Fat[8], we gain some insight into the food industry’s perspective.

In a meeting back in 1999, the CEO of General Mills, stated that, “General Mills is responsible not only to consumers but to shareholders. We offer products that are low-fat, low-sugar, have whole grains in them, to people who are concerned about eating those products. “

Oh, so they do care about our health!

But wait… he continued…

“Bottom line being, though, that we need to ensure that our products taste good, because our accountability is also to our shareholders. And there’s no way we could start down-formulating the usage of salt, sugar, fat if the end result is going to be something that people do not want to eat”.

Sugar is a drug.

Sugar is addictive.

And sugar is, in my opinion, one of the major causes of why this country is so fat and getting fatter.

With all due respect for those who’ve battled substance addiction, never in a million years would someone in treatment be advised that a little heroin in moderation is ok or having a little cocaine now and then is just dandy.

Yet we see exactly that with sugar.  

We feed it to kids in their brightly colored cereal boxes with fluorescent marshmallows, we give them kids’ snack mixes laced with Red Dye # 40, which, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians have been officially linked to ADD[9]. When they are diagnosed with ADD or break out in a rash, they’re not taken off dye and gluten and sugar. They’re given meds.

Worse yet, if this situation occurs in a household where the parents are overweight, eating badly, and not moving, their disconnect inherently gets passed on to the kids, and the kids are trained to eat sugar, candy and soda, while the mere mention of a vegetable is never even a consideration.

That child is then addicted to sugar, which he or she is still eating and drinking, fat, and taking medications.

There is no intervening, because what each family chooses to eat is their own business.

And even if there were, it’s not exactly as though it’s in the best interest of the ‘food’ (quotes used intentionally) manufacturers (since when does food need to be manufactured?) and pharmaceutical companies to present information that would in effect decrease profit.

So if it’s not acknowledged that this is where it all starts, how can we ever try to remedy this horrendous situation we’re in?

An obese two year old isn’t exactly going to tell his obese mother that he’d prefer some grilled chicken and sautéed broccoli over the frozen, breaded chicken nuggets with chocolate milk he’s being served.

It’s heartbreaking and tragic and I can only come back to the same old thing I’ve written about time and time again: education.

We’ve got to take matters into our own hands and each do our part to help in any way we can.

Whether than means offering to start a school garden, volunteering at your children’s school to do a lecture on healthy eating or starting your own blog is your choice; it doesn’t really matter which route you choose to go, so long as you do something.

I don’t suspect we’re going to start seeing accurate information being passed out by the USDA anytime soon in terms of avoiding gluten, omitting dairy or how toxic sugar really can be, so we can’t just sigh about it and wait for someone else to fix it.

Even if you reach one single person, you’ve done something…and hopefully the reward you’ll feel just in the knowledge you’ve done so will prompt you to do it again, and again.




[1] Overweight and Obesity Statistics. US Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 20 July 2015.


[2] “About Adult BMI.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 May 2015. Web. 20 July 2015

[3] Zernike, Kate. “Sizing Up America: Signs of Expansion From Head to Toe.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Feb. 2004. Web. 20 July 2015

[4] “Almost Half of US Could Be Obese by 2050 – New Scientist.” New Scientist. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2015

[5] Eaton, S. Boyd., Marjorie Shostak, and Melvin Konner. The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet & Exercise and a Design for Living. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print

[6] Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011. Print

[7] Adams, Kelly M., Martin Kohlmeier, and Steven H. Zeisel. “Nutrition Education in U.S. Medical Schools: Latest Update of a National Survey.” Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 20 July 2015.

[8] Moss, Michael. Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. New York: Random House, 2013. Print

[9] “Avoid Food Dyes to Reduce Hyperactivity and ADHD.” Avoid Toxic Artificial Food Dyes to Reduce Hyperactivity and ADHD. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2015