In 2006, an editorial appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The author of the article decided that there must be more to the growing obesity problem in America than the simple fact that people don’t exercise enough while eating too much. To back this statement, the editorial cited research from the International Journal of Obesity, which recently reported 10 other possible reasons that people get fat. Ready for the top ten countdown on why Americans are getting fatter by the minute? Here it is:
- Not sleeping enough. Lack of sleep has been show to decrease levels of the hormone leptin and increase levels of the hormone ghrelin. So inadequate sleep can trigger your body to increase food intake and store fat. Research has shown that people getting six hours of sleep per night are 27% more likely to become obese than those getting seven to nine hours, and people who get only two to four hours of sleep are 67% more likely to become obese. Since just one hour can make a big difference, try hitting the sack a bit earlier, and you might not have to hit the gym quite as hard.
- Endocrine disruptions. Basically, this refers to pollutants, toxins and chemicals in the Western diet that can decrease the body’s metabolism and increase fat storage. The answer to this problem is simple – eat as naturally as possible, attempting to avoid frequent consumption of processed or packaged foods. I would also recommend choosing organic foods for any product in which the outer skin is consumed, such as apples or cucumbers.
- Temperature controls. The argument here is that technologies like air conditioning and central heating have replaced people’s natural, calorie-burning temperature responses such as shivering and sweating. Not sure about this one – but here’s a thought: if your house were more sweltering in the summer, would you be more likely to get “out and about” and engage in activities like swimming, boating, visiting the beach or going to the gym? And if you were colder in the winter, would you move around more to stay warm?
- Less smoking. Cigarettes are an appetite suppressant. This is an interesting observation, but please – don’t take up a chain-smoking diet!
- Medicines that cause weight gain. Certain prescription drugs used in the treatment of mood disorders, seizures, migraines, diabetes, and high blood pressure, as well as steroids, hormone replacement therapy, and birth control pills can cause a weight gain of up to 10 pounds a month. Common culprits include antidepressants Paxil and Zoloft, the antiseizure medication Depakote, diabetes drugs like Diabeta and Diabinese, the high blood pressure drugs Cardura and Inderal, and heartburn drugs like Nexium and Prevacid.
- Demographic changes. As we grow older, our metabolism slows. The increase in middle-aged people has increased obesity rates, as has the increased diversity, since research has observed some ethnic populations have been higher obesity rates. This shouldn’t be used as an excuse…just a reason to show more self-control and engage in consistent exercise!
- Maternal age. Older birth moms tend to have heavier children. This is probably a much smaller problem than what the children are actually being fed as they age. If you’re unhappy with your weight, and feeding your kids the same food you eat, they’ll eventually be unhappy with their weight, and unhealthy too!
- Assortative mating. The reasoning goes something like this: an overweight or obese person is more likely to choose a similarly built individual as a mate, resulting in a higher percentage of big-boned children. This makes some sense, since the diet and lifestyle of an obese man or woman would be suppoted by an obese spouse or partner. But this should make it that much easier to go on a diet or exercise plan together, right?
- Natural selection. This theory claims that a fat individual is equipped to out-survive a skinny individual in times of need, such as famine. Unfortunately, the Western lifestyle doesn’t experience too much famine, and obesity is accompanied by many life threatening problems such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease, so I don’t think this is a valid reason.
- Genetic influences on pregnancy. An obese ancestor could result in an obese grandchild through a mechanism such as a “fetally driven positive feedback loop”. The next person who walks into my personal training office using this as an excuse will be doing some treadmill time. All kidding aside, I acknowledge that many individuals are more genetically prone to weight gain and obesity. The problem is that I often observe these people using this as an excuse or crutch, and subsequently consuming large amounts of fatty and sugary foods, while spending very little time in active health pursuits.
Based on this top ten list, I’d like to sum up in one sentence how you can fight your expanding waistline: “Get an adequate night’s sleep, then stay active throughout the day while increasing consumption of natural foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts, and decreasing consumption of pharmaceutical medications, processed and packaged foods.”
There you have it! Until next time, train smart,
M.S. PE, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
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