Theory: Obesity Is Due to Factors Beyond Our Control

We're living in the age of the obesity epidemic — not mainly because we're gluttons who don't exercise and subsist on McDonald's — but because of factors out of our control. These factors have mostly to do with what goes into our food and how it's marketed to us.

In "5 Shocking Reasons Why America Is Fat," Martha Rosenberg lists the myriad chemicals in our food products that allow us to gain more weight than is healthy. This includes the excessive use of antibiotics given to patients, especially children, and to the animals that we end up eating; the presence of other fattening hormones and medications given to animals that most other countries wouldn't touch; pesticides and endocrine disruptors that can influence obesity from the fetal stage; and the ubiquity of supposedly healthier artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes.

The crap that's in our food might explain why obesity seems to have especially taken hold in America. Take for example, the comparison to European meat:


Also banned in European countries are the hormones US cattle growers rely upon, such as oestradiol-17, trenbolone acetate, zeranol and melengestrol. Zeranol may have more actions than just making mammals fat. It is a "powerful estrogenic chemical, as demonstrated by its ability to stimulate growth and proliferation of human breast tumor cells in vitro at potencies similar to those of the natural hormone estradiol and the known carcinogen diethylstilbestrol," says the Breast Cancer Fund. Translation: it may be linked to US breast cancer rates, too. No wonder Europe doesn't want our beef.

There's also the matter of US food governing bodies, like the USDA, encouraging on the one hand educates us about high-fat food, also works with lobby groups like Dairy Management to pump up the fat as well:

The USDA, even though it cautions food consumers about high-fat, obesity-linked foods, plays the other side of the street as well and is linked to a group that seeks to get people to double their cheese intake to help milk sales. Dairy Management, a USDA "marketing creation" with 162 employees, according to the New York Times, has helped Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy's and Domino's cheesify their menu options!

Rosenberg's post is similar to an Aeon Magazine article by David Berreby, entitled "The Obesity Era," which argues that obesity is a bigger animal than individual discipline:


Over the past 20 years or more, as the American people were getting fatter, so were America's marmosets. As were laboratory macaques, chimpanzees, vervet monkeys and mice, as well as domestic dogs, domestic cats, and domestic and feral rats from both rural and urban areas.

Berreby proposes a similar explanation to Rosenberg in pointing out the fats, artificial sugars, and chemicals that change our body chemistry so that we take in more fat than is healthy. They argue for a way of looking at obesity that is bigger picture, and less blame-filled than the conventional wisdom.

Image via Shutterstock.