Blame it on fast food? Blame it on high fructose corn syrup? Maybe lack of exercise is to blame? Why are more people than ever before overweight or obese? The reason for the obesity epidemic, according to a new study, is the most obvious one – people simply eat too much, whether or not they consume a lot of junk food or make healthier choices.
Salty and sugary foods, like fast food fare and soft drinks, are not the root cause of today’s snowballing obesity problems. A Cornell University research effort has shown that there is no significant difference in the amount of junk food or fast food eaten by normal weight and overweight people. The root cause is the tendency for more people to eat more food. In other words, the more calories = the more pounds.
Lead researcher David Just, co-director of the Cornell University Center for Behavioral Economics, in Ithaca, N.Y., noted that junk food is still an issue. Those foods “are clearly bad for you and if you eat too much of them they will make you fat, but it doesn’t appear to be the main driver that is making people overweight and obese,” commented Just. However, “for 95 percent of the country, there is no relationship between how much fast food and junk food they’re eating and their weight,” according to their study, which is in the most recent issue of the journal Obesity Science & Practice.
Along with colleague Brian Wansink, who is director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Just analyzed data gathered from approximately 5,000 American adults on the 2007-2008 National Household and Nutrition Examination Survey. The analysis showed that consumption of candy, soft drinks and fast food were not linked to weight for most people. The exceptions were on both ends of the weight spectrum; people who are underweight as well as those severely overweight tend to eat more fast food. They also consume fewer vegetables and fruits.
Surprisingly, underweight adults in the U.S. drink more soda and eat more sweet snacks than people who are of average weight. Also, surprising, the research showed that individuals who are overweight of obese consume less salty or sweet snack and drink fewer soft drinks that people who are average in weight.
While those who are morbidly obese (those with a Body Mass Index of 44.9 or more) were found to eat fewer sweet or salty snacks, there was one food the researchers found the group ate way more of than others: French fries. The study showed the morbidly obese ate 50 percent more French fries than those who were of average weight.
The growth in the calories consumed by Americans on average on a daily basis, not the junk food that makes up part of those diets, seems to be the reason for the obesity epidemic. The typical American is eating more than 500 calories a day over the typical amount consumed 40 years ago, and probably exercising less. While a surfeit of fast food, junk food and soft drinks are not an ideal diet, given the Cornell research, curbing calories and portion control appears to be more important in changing behavior and waistline sizes.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
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