What Was the Obesity Tipping Point?

Elevated View of a Tray With Fries, a Hamburger and Lemonade
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Right now in the United States, more than one-third of the population is obese. This wasn't the case 30 years ago, so at some point between then and now, we changed the way we eat or the way we move around. Or both.

So What Happened?

We know why so many people are obese -- eating too much food, with lots of calories, and over-processed with lots of sugar and unhealthy fats. Decreased physical activity takes part of the blame too.

But, again, why did this happen? What was the tipping point that turned us into a bunch of chubby lemmings ready to plummet off a cliff into an abyss of obesity-related chronic disease? And more important now -- what is the tipping point that will get us back to a healthy weight?

Think About a Typical Day. How Many People ...

... start the day with sugary cereals, maybe some frozen things that heat up in the toaster? Or maybe just grab a cup of coffee or a bottle of Mountain Dew and a donut? Eeww. What a way to start the day.

... eat too much at work? Vending machines offer fattening snacks, so it's easy to eat a candy bar or snack cake with your morning coffee. What about lunch? Off to the closest fast food joint for artery-clogging burgers and fries.

... give up on dinner? It's been a long day at work, and now it is time to make dinner for the family. Ugh. Maybe just stop for take-out, grab a bucket of fried chicken or order a big pizza.

After dinner, it's time to veg out in front of the HDTV where we are barraged with ads for snacks, sodas, and more fast foods. Off to the kitchen - a bag of Doritos anyone?

What else has changed over the last thirty-something years?

When I was a kid, we filled the car's tank at a gas station, and that's about all it was.

Now we stop for gas at a convenience store, and we fill our own tanks with some of the worst junk foods. It's just too easy to step inside for a donut, a slice of pizza or a giant soda for the ride home.

Portion sizes have increased too. We drink soda in 20-ounce bottles instead of 12-ounce cans; restaurant portions are huge, and I think a lot of people have just gotten used to eating more food at each meal.

What about physical activity? When I was a kid in the 70's, we had physical education in school every day. That isn't the case anymore. Plus more kids play video and computer games in the house, instead of going outside.

Maybe we adults aren't as active at home either. Thirty years ago, we didn't have remote controls for our TVs, so we had to get up and walk across the room to turn the dial. And we didn't have a cell phone in our pocket -- we had to run to answer the phone in the other room.

But did those little bits of activity make that much of a difference in our calorie burning back in the day?

Maybe, if you add them up over time. Something certainly was different - it wasn't common to belong to a health club, and we didn't have VCRs yet -- Buns of Steel and other exercise tapes were a long way off.

I don't know what the tipping point was, but the important thing to do now is learn more about nutrition, eat right, and get back in shape. 


U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Adult Obesity Facts." Accessed April 14, 3016. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.

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