Why are so many people overweight and obese?

Why are people overweight and obese?

    Over the past 30 to 60 years, the percentage of people that are overweight or obese has increased tremendously among both children and adults. Over the past 30 to 60 years, our genes have not changed in during this period of time, but our environment, lifestyle habits, diet and activities have all changed.

    For the past 30 years, advancements in science and technology have had a tremendous and positive impact on most aspects our lives. Many of these advancements have made things easier, but in other ways these advancements have made things harder.

    One of the things we see today is that people are having more difficulty staying physically fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle than ever before. Part of the problem is that we are slowly engineering physical activities out of our lifestyle. Modern society and technology has given us many "step-saving activities". We have computers, remote control, a more efficient transportation system, fast food, and convenient parking lots that allow us to park basically in front of the supermarket or shopping mall that we want to go to. We'll drive instead of walk, even when it's only a short distance. Years ago, many more people would walk or ride a bicycle to the store, school, or workplace then today.

    Food is available most every where now, and there are so many factors that influence our eating habits and choices. Marketing companies bombard us with advertisements on what to eat. Time pressure, money, practicality, taste preferences, and what we ate growing up, all play a role on our eating habits and the food choices we make each day.

    Food can bring us comfort, and people often turn to food to heal their emotional and environmental problems. It is vary understandable why most people are attracted to food. Everyone overeats from time to time, especially during the holidays or during periods of stress. Overeating is understandable from time to time, but when overheating becomes a constant and uncontrollable pattern of behavior, it is then considered an eating disorder.

    Eating disorders have both mental and physical aspects that affect a person's behavior and habits. Emotional eating is an attempt to manage moods or situations using food. Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food in response to an emotional feeling, instead of actual physical hunger. Binge eating disorders and night eating syndromes are the most common eating disorders for overweight or obese people. Other forms of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by significant weight loss resulting from excessive dieting and an obsession to be thin. Bulimia nervosa is a disorder characterized by behavior such as vomiting, taking laxatives, or over exercising after eating, in order to rid the body of the consumed calories.

    The brain or mind can become addicted to food easily, especially comfort food and junk food that are high in sugar and fat. The brain's chemistry is linked to emit a pleasure response with chemicals like dopamine, in that it wants to receive more and more pleasure. Overconsumption of pleasurable foods, trigger an addiction-like response in the brain that drives the development of compulsive eating. The brain or mind governs our behavior, but we can take certain steps such as identifying these eating triggers, as well as starting new habits, that will create new circuits in our brain. As with drug and alcoholism addictions, people will likely experience some withdrawal symptoms and detoxification processes when they change to eating healthy. One of the biggest problems in managing food addiction, is that we need to consume food on a daily basis. Creating good eating habits and making healthy food choices are critical steps to achieving and sustaining a healthy lifestyle and being physically fit.

    Often folks that are overweight or obese say they have reasons for this, and can justify why they can't lose weight. Some say that they have an under-active thyroid, or that they don't have the time to eat healthy and exercise. Others say it is in their genes be overweight. While your genes do play a role in your weight, lifestyle habits, (both diet and physical activities) can help you acheive the healthiest weight that you can. While all these factors matter, the reality is that these folks generally don't accept responsibility or understand the importance of self-care. They're often surprised at how quickly the weight comes off once they have accepted responsibility for their self-care.

    There are so many things that influence decreased physical activity and increase being overweight and obese. It is definitely challenging to change, but not impossible. Healthy eating habits and regular physical activity help both children and adults feel better, learn and work more effectively, and avoid developing a variety of health risks, and minimize lifestyle restrictions.

    Together, let's make a commitment to work out a strategy that will help you. You are the only person who can make you physically fit, so invest in your self-care and you'll be glad that you did.


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Published by the United States Department of Agriculture.
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