Cultural factors that increase overweight and obesity

What is it about our culture that brought us here?

Experts used to think weight was predetermined by a person’s set-point: a weight range at which the body is comfortable that can be maintained with normal (non-restrictive) eating and moderate exercise. Today there are many other factors that influence eating, exercise and weight, and ultimately affect the numbers on the scale.

Genetics have, perhaps, the strongest influence on body size and weight. In addition, psychological issues such as depression and anxiety affect weight, as well as biological factors related to hormones and chemicals in the body that regulate appetite and satiety. Since it takes thousands of years for the gene pool to change, most experts agree the new trend in weight gain among Americans can be attributed to only one thing: culture.

As long as Americans value the quantity of food they can receive for their money over its healthfulness, we will continue to see a steady increase in the level of obesity and overweight. Popular restaurant chains like the Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse are preferred because of large portion sizes rather than food quality or dining atmosphere.

The cultural definition of beauty for both women and men demands extreme thinness. But only 5 percent of the population is naturally shaped like the ideal. Millions of others are unsuccessfully trying restrictive diets and commercial diet programs to lose weight. Between 95 percent and 99 percent of dieters gain back the weight they lost plus five additional pounds. The dieting cycle actually causes more overall weight gain than weight loss.

Americans are far more isolated and disconnected from friends and family than ever before. People work more hours, move away from family, and are busier with activities. Food and overeating is often more comforting, easier, and less expensive than travel or telephone calls.

With more hours spent working, Americans feel like their lives are too busy and hectic to allow time for cooking. More and more families and individuals are eating at restaurants or getting take-out food, both of which offer more food, fat and calories when compared to home-cooked meals.

Americans are now dependent on technology. With efficiency as the goal; machines, buttons and gadgets make certain chores easier while decreasing the amount of physical activity that needs to be done on any given day. We no longer raise our garage doors, shovel snow, or walk to work or school. Elevators, drive through bank tellers, and remote controls enable Americans to get through the day taking fewer steps than ever before.

Work, for many Americans, involves sitting for hours at a desk. Again, the body is not in motion, and therefore creates an imbalance between calories consumed and calories burned.

Cultural factors specific to children:

Schools offer easy access to fast food, soda, and junk food in the cafeteria.

Junk food (candy bars, chips and fast food) is cheap and accessible to young people. Never before has so much processed, high fat food been so widely available.

Children are consuming more and more sugar-sweetened beverages that add calories, but no nutritional value, to the body.
Parents have legitimate concerns about safety, so children are no longer permitted to play outside for hours after school and during free time. Today, children are spending their free time indoors sitting in front of the television or a computer. Researchers have found a strong link between hours of television watched and overweight in children.

Source: Ivanhoe News

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