In an interesting bit of research from the Lancet (The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9793, Pages 804 - 814, 27 August 2011) in their obesity special this past summer, a team of researchers performed analysis that looked at trends over the past 100 years, considering both our relative activity and food consumption as a society. They suggested that obesity rates stayed in check from the period of 1910 to 1970 despite the fact that our society was becoming more mechanized and motorized (i.e., more sedentary). Their theory was based on the observation that amount of food that was available during this time actually decreased somewhat. During this time, Americans started eating less wheat due to there being fewer manual labor jobs, and foods with lots of added sugars and fats had not yet begun to proliferate. Starting in the 1970's, the food supply in American began to swell with the introduction of new food items in the grocery store resulting in a commensurate increase in food consumption and ultimately obesity. Below is a chart that makes their point...
To put a finer point on it, the amount of food available in the American supply chain has increased by the equivalent of 600 calories per day since the early 1970's (source: CNPP Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010). To be sure, it is not the case that we have dutifully eaten all of these extra 600 calories per day as some of that food goes to waste and other ends. However, other research does suggest that actual energy intake is up roughly 200 calories per day for the average adult American. It doesn't seem like much, but those extra 200 calories per day are the difference that can create an obesity epidemic.
Smart people can have smart debates about the causal factors of the obesity epidemic today, but my own personal experience leads me to believe the authors of this Lancet study. I would certainly suggest that all useful knowledge of the universe can be properly derived from my own personal sample size of one, so please allow me to further enlighten the discussion.
It all comes back to my mom.
When I think back about my own weight progression, it comes in three fairly distinct phases:
- Being held prisoner in my home (age 0 to high school graduation)
- Getting a sailor's shore leave in the brothel of endless food (ages 18 to 34)
- Getting a grip (ages 35 to date with periodic shore leaves interspersed)
- Breakfast: cereal and skim milk (reconstituted powdered skim milk at that)
- Lunch: cheese & mustard sandwich, banana, and 6 ounces of chocolate milk. No extra treat.
- Dinner: normal portions of whatever my mom cooked that night served on a plate that would seem laughably small by today's standards