What Really Causes Obesity

Obviously, I am not a nutritionist or food scientist, but there seem to be some obvious reasons why the majority of Americans are overweight or obese that few scientists are addressing, First, let’s get this out on the table: most Americans are overweight. According to a USA Today article (I know, not the most scientific of journals, but what I could find in a pinch), 62% of adults and 34% of children are overweight or obese. Adults are considered overweight if they are one or more pounds over a healthy weight. They are obese if they are thirty or more pounds overweight.

What causes this? We all love the easy scapegoat: it’s my genes; there’s something wrong with my body, i.e. physical damage with my pituitary or thyroid glands, etc. But what really causes overeating most of the time? What’s really the underlying problem?

Personally, I think the industrial age is the culprit. Crazy? Hear me out.

With modern machinery, mechanical farming and pesticides came fast food. With processed food came additives, preservatives and flavoring agents. I think the true culprits in our obesity epidemic are high-fructose corn syrup, white flour, white sugar, salt and trans fats. It’s that simple. If we stayed away from these foods entirely and even banned them, we would be a much healthier society. The problem is that these ingredients are in most foods the public-at-large eats, especially at easily accessible fast food restaurants.

Another issue is that since we no longer eat primarily—or entirely—locally grown, seasonal produce. Produce is now genetically modified and engineered to withstand traveling great distances so it won’t bruise or decay. This is why no one likes veggies and even fruits. They often taste horrible.

If you talk to older folks, they will tell you that tomatoes used to taste better. Strawberries never had that awful-tasting white center. Peaches were sweet and juicy. Sure, you can still get great produce if you know where to find it, or if you are a farmer, or if you purchase locally-grown, organic produce at the local co-op, but the majority of Americans are unaware and are eating bland, tasteless, cardboard-like veggies, especially at fast food restaurants. Therefore, the food industry compensates by adding high fructose corn syrup, oil and salt to enhance food that should taste good to begin with. It is no wonder why so many Americans hate veggies.

One move that would help cure all of this is to ban high fructose corn syrup altogether and put a limit as to how much salt should be in a given serving of food. We should also standardize what a serving size is. How many times have you held a plastic Coke bottle that says serving size: 2? A small soda bottle sold in a vending machine should never have two servings. Of course, you know that the person purchasing it will often drink the whole thing.

Furthermore, the government should not be allowed to subsidize any industry that contributes to the obesity problem. America’s poor cannot afford fresh produce, so they fill up their grocery carts with highly processed garbage. There should be hefty taxes on junk food and large subsidies for fresh fruit and vegetable growers.

We also need to ban factory farming and subsidize small, local farms. A farmer who sells produce to his own community should be able to make a comfortable middle-class living—period.

We should also ban pesticides. Millions of people know this, yet the government lacks the courage to actually put this in motion. If pesticides were banned, crops would have to be rotated more often and grown on smaller plots, and grown together. This is why Native Americans grew the Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash:

“The corn provides a climbing stalk for the beans; the beans provide nitrogen to the soil to nourish the corn; and the squash leaves spread out, preventing competition from unwanted vegetation and shade for corn’s shallow roots. This kind of intelligent farming is more difficult to do on a factory farm, but maybe this kind of farming would do away with factory farming all together.”

Heirloom Tomatoes

Another problem is that we grow too few varieties of veggies and fruits. If people had more variety, they might enjoy eating produce. Anyone who has tried heirloom tomatoes can tell you this. They taste fantastic, but since they don’t look or even taste like the cardboard tomato wedges plopped into that McDonald’s salad, people are not interested. The public is afraid of the unfamiliar. Yet, eating the same thing day after day, your whole life can be incredibly boring, and so you hate those yucky veggies even more.

There no easy solution to the obesity epidemic, but we can start by electing officials that are accountable and not subservient to industry lobbyists. We need a government that acts on the will of the people, not corporations. We need a government that looks out for our best interests.

What is the immediate solution? Purchase as much locally grown, in season, organic vegetables and fruits as possible. Not only will they taste better, but you’ll be supporting your local, community farmers and helping to put an end to these horrible factory-farming practices as well. Avoid trans fats and highly processed foods. If we all pitch in, we can get our collective health back more quickly.