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Experts Say Cheap Food Is to Blame for America’s Obesity Epidemic


iStock_000007372847Small (2) The obesity epidemic in America continues to grow, with two out of every three Americans now being classified as overweight or obese. Countless theories, culprits, and complicating factors have been identified to explain the situation, but new research suggests that a different type of problem is at work. Namely, that our food has become too cheap.

A New Type of Research on Obesity

Research published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians suggests a decidedly different fundamental cause of the rise in obesity, sighting the overwhelming availability of cheap, unhealthy foods, as the main culprit.

The researchers determined that some of the commonly-cited causes, such as socioeconomic status, race, or geography, do not deserve the brunt of the blame. This conclusion was reached because, while discrepancy exists between the rates of obesity among these different demographic groups, all of these groups are gaining weight at roughly the same rate. Such a compelling finding suggests that we may have been misunderstanding the nationwide rise in obesity, and that different factors are at work. Essentially, the researchers believe that food has become too cheap, and too readily available, and that as a whole we are overeating as a result, regardless of demographics.

Why Are People Eating More?

There are a number of reasons why many people eat more than they should, but the most compelling reason may be our biological makeup. That’s because people are programmed with a survival instinct to eat constantly, due to the fact that starvation has been a problem throughout human history. That is, until recent times. In fact, the researchers showed that as recently as the 1930s, Americans spent about one quarter of their disposable income on food, but recent data shows that number is now under 10 percent. With food being so relatively cheap—especially mass-produced, long-lasting unhealthy foods such as sugar-sweetened drinks, candy, and snack foods—and so widely available, obtaining large amounts of food has become relatively easy for most Americans. Furthermore, our social norms support offering food to guests, and partaking when food is available at a social or work function. When all of these factors are combined, it can be hard not to overeat.

What Can We Do?

Obviously this research does not undermine the benefits of a healthy diet, getting the recommended amounts of exercise, and making smart choices, but in practice, that is not always enough for most people. As such, the most practical approach may be to recognize one’s overeating, and attempt to gradually reduce it. Simply eating more fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods may not be enough, as many people eat them in addition to unhealthy foods, which they can get more easily and cheaply. However, a silver lining does exist, as when we eat less we then have more money to spend on higher quality, healthier foods. In addition, taking steps to politely refuse or avoid eating due to social pressures is another way that many people can make progress.

At the end of the day, there really is no easy answer to solving this problem. However, simply being aware of the link between cheap foods and overeating may be the most important first step toward reversing the rising trend of obesity in America.

Derek Noland – Contributing Writer

Derek is a technical writer and editor with 10 years of experience in the healthcare field, having first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware. He is a contributing author on a number of textbooks in the medical field, ran a nuclear cardiology licensing course, and has written a variety of other pieces from online training courses to medical software manuals. Derek pursues his personal interest in health and wellness by playing multiple sports and running marathons. An insatiable traveler, he spent 16 months working and living abroad while traveling through South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

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