A 1970 Answer to the Rising Obesity Rate

Looking back to 1970 when the obesity rate was low compared with today, we can find the reason for the rising obesity problem and the answer of how to lose weight.

Today we have a thousand diet books telling us to eat this and not eat that. Yet the obesity rate is still rising. Nothing seems to be working. Looking back to 1970 when the obesity rate was low compared with today, we can find the reasons for the rising obesity rate and learn how to lose weight.

Obesity Increase Since 1960

Watch an old TV show from the 1940s through 1970. You hardly saw anyone who was obese and today even commercials are now showing normal Americans as being quite overweight. It has become the normal. This is not meant to be a derogatory article towards people who are overweight. It is to show how so many of us became overweight without realizing it until we were overweight. A subtle change we aren’t even aware of as it is happening.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30. Currently 34 percent of Americans adults are considered obese. In 1960, 13 percent of Americans were considered obese, a 162% increase [1].

The Availability of Food Since 1970

The availability of food and food choices per person has increased dramatically since 1970. If it is available, people will eat it, and it has made unhealthy food cheaper.

In 1970, there was 2,057 available calories per person per day and in 2008 there was 2,674 available calories. A 30 percent increase. Below are the increases in availability of certain food items since 1970 [2].

  • Corn flour and corn meal increased 177%
  • Corn starch increased 132%
  • White and whole wheat flour increased 20%
  • Cheese (Italian, American, others) increased 329%
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increased 9,585%
  • Sugar availability actually decreased by 35%
  • Cooking and salad oils increased 253%, and oils are fat.
  • Carbonated soft drinks (non-diet) increased 60%

Over-Consumption and Obesity

According to the USDA 2000 Fact Book, Americans increased their caloric intake by 530 calories or 24.5 percent since 1970. You have to do a lot of exercises to burn an extra 530 calories per day. The majority of that 24.5 percent increase in consumption was almost entirely in refined grains, added fats and oils and added sugars [3].

In 1970, people didn’t guzzle soda pop like it was water. Since 1978, soft drink consumption in the US has tripled for males and doubled for females. Males age 12-29 now drink over 160 gallons of soft drinks per year.

According to the American Dental Association, Americans were consuming an average of 53 gallons of soft drinks per person every year in 2001. That is more than the consumption of water. Over the past 50 years in the US, soft drink consumption has increased by 500%. [4]

Percent of obese adults in 1985.  Interactive Map by CDC

Corn, the Government and Cheap Food

Could the inflation of the mid 1970's with Americans screaming for cheaper food started the obesity problem?

We have seen how the availability of high fructose corn syrup has risen dramatically. HFCS was cheaper than sugar by 1980.

The huge increase in fast food meals since 1970 could be a cause for the rising obesity rate, which some then blame on the huge increase in corn, since cheap corn in some form is probably in most items you buy at a grocery store or a fast food place. Cheap corn is in the hamburgers, the buns, the soda pop and the sauces they use. There are conflicting studies as to whether or not HFCS causes us to gain more weight than sugar. Believable studies say that it does. [5]

  • In 1970, most meals were cooked at home. Today eating at fast food places or take out has almost tripled since 1970.
  • In 1970, we didn’t go to the grocery store and have thousands of high-sodium fattening processed food choices tempting us.
  • In 1970, we didn’t have so many chemically laden processed foods like we do today.
  • In 1970, most of our foods did not have a longer list of ingredients than hair shampoo does. Real food has almost gone the way of black and white television.

I wonder if someone from 1955 ate one of today’s processed meals, would they recognize the food or even like it. Very high sodium levels, high fructose corn syrup and chemicals that weren’t even invented in the 1950s are today called food.

Could there be something about the chemicals in processed foods that causes weight gain or possibly causes us to not feel full and eat more.

 Can Processed Foods Cause Obesity

Yes, processed foods can lead to obesity. Scientist at Pomona College in California fed two groups of people the exact same amount of calories. The only difference was that one group’s calories came from processed foods and the other group’s calories came from whole foods.

The conclusion of the study found that the energy expenditure decreased by 50% after the processed food meal compared with the whole foods meals. This reduction is daily energy or calorie burning can lead to becoming overweight and obesity [6].

Percentage of obese adults in 2010. Map by CDC

A 1970 Answer to the Rising Obesity Rate

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that less activity played a minor role in the rising obesity rate, and that over-consumption of food was the main reason for the higher obesity rate since 1970. It concluded that to get back to the average weights of the 1970s, adults would have to cut out 500 calories per day and children would have to eat 350 fewer calories per day [7].

The most obvious answer to the obesity question is that the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study is correct. It is not as hard as you think to eat or drink 500 fewer calories per day. A large fries is 500 calories right there.

The 1970 answer to the rising obesity rate is simply eating less, like people did in 1970. If you are overweight or obese and ate 500 fewer calories per day, that would equal 3,500 fewer calories per week. You could possibly lose 52 pounds in one year since there are 3,500 calories to one pound. If 52 pounds in a year doesn’t sound like much, remember, you didn’t become overweight in one year either.

The 1970 answer to obesity, cook more of your own meals at home. This way you can control the sodium, sugar, ingredients and portion size and avoid the chemicals. When you go to the grocery store, ignore all of those high sodium fattening and processed food and snack choices that really didn’t exist in 1970.

Conclusion

We all love food and there are so many fattening and sugary choices today. All of the high sodium, fatty or sugary foods could become some kind of addiction for many or just a normal habit that has to be broken.

Stop looking for magic diets, losing weight is not magical or a fast process. Honestly count your calories each day, not missing anything. Just don’t consider it a diet that once you reach some goal you can go back to over-consuming. It is a mindset, and one that today’s kids especially need to learn.

Copyright © May 2011 Sam Montana

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