Smart, Fat and Complacent: America Knows Better, So Why Are We Still Obese?

We all know it, even though we hate to say it. Americans have gained a well-earned reputation around the world for being heavyweights when it comes to our waistlines—but some of the reasons why will throw you for a loop.

Sure, there are the obvious culprits; Americans haven't exactly been diligent with their health (many of us are currently being pulled by the ear—rightly so—into getting insurance in the first place). We've skimped on our veggies, turned our noses up at regular exercise, and eagerly gobbled down the toxic sludge that is the delectable world of fast food ... but are those the sole factors leading to our ever-tightening pants?

It turns out that there are some surprising reasons behind the obesity epidemic, and based on the scope of the problem, we're thinkin' we should try to make this knowledge-drop household information.

A seemingly obvious, yet systematically overlooked issue lies in the antibiotics we use to fatten up our furry friends—as we're both mammals in this carnivorous food chain, the drugs have similar effects in humans. Every time we chomp into a steak we run the risk of internalizing fat-packing drugs that wreak havoc on the enzymes in our digestive tracts.

Manufacturers brag about the miraculous effects of feeding antibiotics to chicks and nursing calves. Dusty agricultural journals attest to the ways in which the drugs can act like a kind of superfood to produce cheap meat. But what if that meat is us?" -The New York Times

And just to be clear, antibiotics aren't the only method we employ to make our Thanksgiving turkeys extra juicy; we feed a number of chemicals—including estrogen—to our livestock, and we're foolish to think that consuming these potential toxins can't or won't cause problems within our own bodies. As a society we seem to have Superman syndrome—a delusional invincibility—and like a bad comic book a cruel irony is just around the corner; our health is deteriorating with each tick of the clock.

OK, so you're not a meat eater. Think you're safe from harm? Sorry, sister. Your bad habits are still bad. That diet soda you happily quaff alongside with your salad might seem like a tiny sugar-y sin within a perfectly healthy meal, but studies have now shown that sugar substitutes can actually decrease metabolism, turn off the chemical receptors in your stomach that tell you when you're full (leading to over-eating like a piglet at a trough), and finally, "diet" doesn't always mean sugar-free. (But after the aforementioned discoveries, we're sticking with the real stuff anyway.)

Perhaps the most pause-worthy consideration in our book is the insidious marketing of unhealthy foods to children through ads featuring their favorite TV stars, cartoon characters, or other irresistible marketing—"sugar-frosted cocoa-bombs are part of a balanced breakfast!"—as this has been proven to have a marked influence on developing psychological associations with food. What if Dora started exploring the land of fruits instead of "fruit snacks"? Based on the research, it's likely we would see notable results.

Even though we're crawling toward change, new data does show that obesity rates have potentially peaked, with overall numbers remaining stagnant between 2003-2012—but more notably, we're seeing a reduction in obesity in children between the ages of two and five. This is potentially big news, as it could be the product of both public and government-sponsored efforts to improve nutritional education as well as obesity prevention and treatment.

Image: Triumph of Bacchus by Cornelis de Vos

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