The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported for years that more than a third of Americans are obese.
Their latest report shows that while the average American isn’t getting any taller, they are getting wider by an average of 15 to 16 pounds since the late 1980s.
Researchers with the CDC recently analyzed data from 19,151 adults, collected between 2011 to 2014. They found the average man stands at 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 195 pounds. The average woman is 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighs about 166 lbs.
That’s a 15-pound increase for men and 16-pound increase for women, when compared to data collected between 1988 and 1994.
Obesity, which the American Medical Association (AMA) considers a disease, is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30. The new CDC report shows that for both genders, the average BMI score is 29, or borderline obese.
What the report doesn’t state, however, is what’s causing the increasing epidemic of obesity in the United States.
That’s because there’s no simple explanation, but some experts say much of it has to do with food — and the culture surrounding it — in the United States.
Reducing America’s waistline
Human behavior, including diet and exercise routines, is complex, and dissecting it involves numerous variables.
Some experts say the trend of widening waistlines will eventually correct itself, but it will only come with some drastic changes.
Still, Stephen Gullo, president of the Institute for Health and Weight Sciences, and author of “The Thin Commandments,” is convinced humans are not destined to go down by a cookie or a potato chip.
“I’m not convinced this climb will continue forever and there’s nothing we can do about it,” he told Healthline.
One problem, Gullo says, is that Americans are told they can eat in moderation when moderation isn’t something Americans do well.
“If you go to a restaurant, you’ll see people are finishers,” he said. “I see weight as a symptom of out-of-control behavior.”
Another major challenge is the high percentage of processed foods in our food supply, wrought with salts, fats, and sugar, all which connect with people’s brains differently.
For different people, these ingredients stimulate the appetite, making them want to consume more.
“There are characteristics of food that we don’t pay attention to,” Gullo said. “We have taken food away from a nutritional need to make it part of a lifestyle.”
That includes snacking, and lots of it.
From buttered popcorn at the movies to sodas as a form of hydration, the majority of Americans get the majority of their excess calories not at the dinner table but all the foods outside of it, Gullo says.
Changing food habits
Now that more Americans enjoy watching cooking shows than actually cooking themselves, eating out has become less of treat and more of a routine.
The average American adult eats a meal or snack from a restaurant 5.8 times a week, according to the U.S. Healthful Food Council.
Dr. Jill S. Waibel, medical director and owner of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, which performs fat reduction procedures, said research indicates that cooking shows oftentimes show unhealthy recipes to attract the senses and translate into individuals recreating these indulgent meals.
“It is so important to understand how what you are making affects the body as well as the quality of ingredients being used,” she told Healthline.
As Waibel says, just because a chef prepares it on TV doesn’t mean you should eat it regularly.
But with hectic schedules now the norm of modern day living, less time is devoted to meal preparation. This is a drastic change compared to humanity’s hunter-gatherer days when the majority of their lives were dedicated to food.
“As society has become busier, the days of mothers cooking and serving food and having a home cooked family meal have decreased,” Waibel said. “With the abundance of culinary options, eating out has become a convenience. Society norms will continue to shift. Our approach to healthy living should not.”
While many think obesity is solved by exercising more and eating less, Gullo says the most important exercise is exercising better judgment in the food we eat. And this begins with children.
With advertising directly targeting children, often with unhealthy foods in brightly colored packaging adorned with cartoon characters, a major shift in eating trends needs to occur.
“Parents don’t realize the first five years of a child’s life stamps in their eating habits,” Gullo said. “We have, in many ways, stacked the deck against healthy food choices.”