Exploring the True Root of the Obesity Epidemic

Janae Spooner 

A new “disease” is sweeping the nation. America is deteriorating further and further into an obesity epidemic. An article by Paul T. Williams titled “Evidence that Obesity Risk Factor Potencies are Weight Dependent, a Phenomenon that may Explain Accelerated Weight Gain in Western Societies” states, “Obesity has increased from 15% to 33% in U.S. adults between 1980 and the early 2000s”. In order to solve this rapidly growing problem, doctors must first find the cause. There are many hypotheses; watch a video on the factors and possible solutions here. However, I believe the true root of the problem is the prevalence of refined sugar and ultra-processed carbohydrates in the diets of today’s individuals.

One of the other hypotheses of the obesity epidemic attribute inactivity and lack of exercise to be the main cause of the epidemic. This suggests that simple activity would be enough to negate the effects. However, for the most part, this is untrue. A research article titled “Is the Calorie Concept a Real Solution to the Obesity Epidemic?” by Salvador Camacho and Andreas Ruppel states, “Despite the common belief that physical activity could equilibrate an energy imbalance, this is, in reality, difficult to achieve. For example, adults who eat a sandwich containing around 290 kcal should have to walk for around 90 minutes or almost 5 kilometers”.

Simply exercising would not be enough to negate the surplus in calories from an obesogenic diet, or, a diet resulting in obesity. The typical diet of an obese person can be hundreds of calories in surplus, proving far too difficult for them to work off. While exercise and activity can aid in weight loss, a sedentary lifestyle should not be attributed as the main cause of the epidemic overwhelming America at the moment. The focus should be on remedying the diet of obese individuals.

Another misguided hypothesis of the fundamentals of this epidemic suggests that calories and calories out are all that is needed to understand why individuals may gain or lose weight. This mindset considers all calories to be equal and that to lose weight, one would need a deficit, no matter what the remaining diet consists of. While it is true that a deficit is needed in order to lose weight, in order to most efficiently lose fat, the contents of the diet must be taken into consideration. It’s not necessarily true that a calorie is a calorie, as the laws of thermodynamics might indicate otherwise. An article states, “For example, if an individual follows a 2000 kcal diet with 55% of the total kcal from CHO, 30% from fat and 15% of protein, and if thermogenesis is taken into account, the remaining energy would be 1825 kcal and not 2000 kcal”.  A calorie would metabolize differently depending on what macronutrient it is, so simply focusing on having a deficit would not be enough to reverse obesity.

The main aggravator of the obesity epidemic in America is, without a doubt, the ultra-processed CHO content in the diet of most obese individuals. The body’s response to CHO, in particular, has the highest insulin response, and a higher insulin response leads to a higher likelihood of fat storage. An article states, “Additionally, a constantly high presence of insulin is known to provoke insulin and leptin resistance…leptin resistance may impede the body from using the stored fat as a source of energy”. CHOs are often found in ultra-processed products, therefore, the restriction of these industrialized foods would be essential in solving the obesity crisis.

A high intake of industrialized foods can lead to a negative feedback cycle where an individual will end up seeking out more and more of it the more they crave. The easy availability and affordability of ultra-processed foods make this extremely easy to fall into. An article by Cristianne R. M. Frazier,  Peggy Mason, etc. titled “Sucrose Exposure in Early Life Alters Adult Motivation and Weight Gain” states, “Like many humans, mice show a strong preference for sugar and fat and become obese and develop diabetes when given chronic access to a high-sugar/high-fat diet”.

To solve the obesity epidemic in America, a restriction should be put on such foods and drinks, beverages high in CHO in particular. An article states, “The liquid forms of CHO appear to be the most obesogenic form of high-GI carbohydrates”. This suggests that sugary beverages contribute the most to obesity. A proper response would be to restrict the consumption of sugary beverages, perhaps through a tax. An article by Tony Blakely, Nick Wilson, and Bill Kaye-Blake titled “Taxes on Sugar-Sweetened Beverages to Curb Future Obesity and Diabetes Epidemics” states, “a one percentage point increase in soft drink taxes decreases adult BMI by 0.003”. While a shocking revelation, this statistic shows that by simply taxing the sugary beverages, less of them will be consumed, and subsequently decreasing the general BMI in America.

While many factors contribute to the growing obese population in America, one factor in specific can be pointed to as the main cause of the epidemic. The easily available ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks in today’s food industry are contributing to the majority of the issue. These have a high CHO content which spikes insulin, and if eaten on the regular, can drastically increase the chance of gaining fat and keeping fat stored. These foods and drinks are also addictive and entice the individual to seek them out repeatedly. A simple restriction such as a tax on these foods and drinks may be what America needs in solving the severe obesity crisis.

Categories: Editorial, Health, Opinion

Leave a Reply