Obesity is a very common, serious and costly problem affecting 93.3 million people in the U.S. At this point it must be called a health crisis. More and more people are dealing with obesity and other weight related health issues Unfortunately, excessive body fat is linked to a plethora of conditions like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. Obesity has been associated with 1 in 5 deaths. according to a study published online on August 15 in the American Journal of Public Health.
Today, the average American consumes 195lbs of meat every year, compared to 138lbs in the 1950s. The consumption of added fats has shot up by almost two thirds as well as grains by 45% since the 70s. So, why is the American diet the way it is today? A few significant figures throughout history have had a major influence on what we how you eat today. But, it’s not all based on the right information.
Here's the top reasons why the obesity rate is increasing:
- Ancel Keys seven country study that influenced the way we eat today
- Nutrition advice that’s based on misleading studies
- Sugar, Obesity and Diabetes
- Diet Progoganda
- Edward Bernays marketing tactic that changed the way Americans ate breakfast
- Fad diets that lead to increased weight gain over time
Ancel Keys Seven Country Study
A major influencer of the American diet today is a man by the name of Ancel Keys. In 1958, the American scientist Ancel Keys investigated the link between cardiovascular disease and diet in different countries all over the world. The research was called the Seven Country Study.
The study showed that in countries where fat consumption was the highest, so was heart disease. This supports the idea that dietary fat causes heart disease which moves you a step closer to understanding how the modern American diet was formed. It also makes sense why for so long Americans wanted to eat food low in fat or with no fat. The results from the study gained a lot of media attention and had a huge influence on dietary guidelines over the next several years. So, why are many people struggling with obesity and the associated health conditions when a low fat diet has been touted for decades?
The observational study had some big flaws. In countries like Holland and Norway, people eat a lot of fat and have very little heart disease. Whereas in Chile, there’s a high rate of heart disease but low fat consumption. These results miraculously didn’t make it into the final study. Although the research was carried out in more than seven countries, only the countries that supported Keys’ theory made the cut.
Nutrition Based on Misleading Studies
Fast-forward a couple of decades on from the Seven Country Study when the first Dietary Goals for the United States was published in 1977. These guidelines were based on the idea that dietary fat causes cholesterol issues and cholesterol problems cause heart disease. So that one study possibly skewed future research studies simply because they based part of their reasoning on the Seven Country Study. This has been proven to be wrong. Saturated fat does not clog the arteries. Coronary heart disease is an inflammatory condition of which the risk of developing can be reduced by living a healthy lifestyle.
A massive study published in 2010 focused on the consumption of saturated fat and heart disease. The study looked at results from 21 different studies in 347,747 individuals. Researchers found absolutely no correlation between saturated fat and the risk of heart disease. Multiple other studies have confirmed the same findings that saturated fat really doesn’t have anything to do with heart disease.
You have probably heard about an association between fat, cholesterol and heart disease. But, the root of where this came from is based on bad science. Unfortunately, this bad science has massive repercussions on the health of the population. Despite eating guidelines recommending a high-carb, low-fat diet, it was around this time in the late 70s that the obesity epidemic started shortly followed by the diabetes epidemic.
The idea was to reduce dietary fat, and that if everyone just reduced their fat content, their health and diet would improve. Of course, this didn’t have the desired effect. Ironically, there were more fat-free products than ever, but Americans continued to gain weight. It was around this time in the late 70s that the obesity epidemic started shortly followed by the diabetes epidemic.
During this time, people were avoiding dietary fat including plant-based healthy fats, thinking it would cause heart attacks and obesity. But, sugar was left to run free in the American diet.
Sugar, Obesity and Diabetes
Sugar obsession is at an all-time high. It’s in everything from sauces and candy to drinks and snacks. Over the past 50 years, the perspective on sugar from the food and beverage industry hasn’t changed. Sugar consumption has skyrocketed and continues to grow.
Children and adults are seeing increased rates of diseases like hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease. Some people assume that sickness is the result of the obesity pandemic but, sugar plays a major role in contributing to chronic disease.
Negative Effects of Eating Too Much Sugar
Increase Weight Gain
Obesity rates continue to grow globally. Added sugar, especially the kind in sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and juices, is thought to be a major contributor. Research has consistently found that people who drink sugary drinks weigh more than people who don’t.
Increase Risk of Diabetes and Heart Disease
The number of people with diabetes continues to grow, with type 2 diabetes being the most common type. Over the past 30 years, the worldwide prevalence of diabetes has more than doubled. Obesity is a massive risk factor for diabetes and is often caused by consuming too much sugar.
Studies have found that drinking a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to an increased amount of visceral fat. This type of belly fat is associated with conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Wrinkles and fine lines are all part of the natural aging process. However, poor food choices can accelerate the skin aging process. A diet high in sugar and refined carbs leads to the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which may result in premature skin aging. AGEs damage elastin and collagen which help to keep the skin looking youthful and stretchy.
Diet and Propaganda
The modern diet has been influenced by questionable science and research with a purpose. Edward Bernays was an Austrian-American often referred to as the father of public relations. He was named one of the top 100 most influential Americans in 20th-century by Life Magazine. Bernays’ advertising campaigns were considered legendary in the marketing world. In order to overcome tough cigarette sales in women, he promoted smoking as a way to soothe your throat and slim the waistline in the 30s.
Bernays’ was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and used psychology to get people to buy what he was advertising. Not only did he have influence over the increase of women using cigarettes in the 20th century, but he also influenced the way Americans ate breakfast. When it comes to the American breakfast, eggs and bacon are synonymous with the morning meal. Well, you have Edward Bernays to thank for that.
Back in the 1920s, Bernays was approached by Beech-Nut. The brand wanted to increase demand for its bacon. So, Bernays turned to his agency’s internal doctor and asked whether a heavier breakfast, particularly bacon and eggs, would be beneficial for the American population. The doctor gave a resounding yes and wrote to five thousand of his doctor friends to confirm the message. This campaign may explain the love affair Americans have with bacon.
The ‘study’ encouraged the American public to eat a heavier breakfast, mainly eggs and bacon. This was published in major newspapers and magazines at the time. Beach-Nut’s profits rose sharply and the true all-American breakfast was born with plenty of bacon on the side.
The Consequences of the Standard American Diet
Stereotypically, the average person on the standard American diet eats 63% of their calories from processed and refined foods like soft drinks and packaged snacks. While 12% of America’s calories come from plant-based foods. Unfortunately, roughly half of the calories from plant-based foods come from french fries. So, that leaves 6% of calories from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Now that might not be everyone’s diet, but it unfortunately is the majority. Most everyone can agree that everyone can use more fresh veggies and fruits in their diet.
Misleading science, propaganda and clever advertising over the past 100 years or so have had a massive impact on today’s health. A large chunk of the population is struggling with obesity and heart disease. The standard American diet leads to standard American diseases. In a report from the National Cancer Institute on the state of the American diet, researchers found some daunting results.
Nearly nine out of ten don’t reach the recommended vegetable intake a day and three out of four don’t eat a single piece of fruit per day. These findings add another piece to the health crisis puzzle that is leading to a diet rich in disease.
In one of the most significant studies of human nutrition, The China Study by T.Colin Campbell, Ph.D., and his team takes the extra step to analyze the best diet for long-term health. In the 417-page book, researchers looked at data that spanned over 20 years. Full of data, stats, and research, The China Study isn’t exactly your casual beach-read. So, here are a few stand-out points you should know:
- The study included 65 countries and 6,500 adults
- Researchers discovered that animal protein promotes cancer growth
- Heart disease can be reversed through nutrition, in particular, a whole food, plant-based diet
- A whole food, plant-based diet may help to protect you from diabetes, obesity, brain diseases, and autoimmune diseases
During The China Study, experts share the work of other studies throughout the years. A notable study mentioned is from the Cleveland Clinic. The study treated 18 patients with coronary heart disease with a whole food, plant-based diet. Following the diet intervention, 70% of patients experienced an opening of their clogged arteries.
American health statistics are scary with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates skyrocketing. All of this data points to the fact that the standard American diet needs a shake-up. Proper nutrition and eating a diet with plenty of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables can not only prevent certain health conditions but even reverse diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
By making healthy lifestyle choices and looking for whole, plant-based options you can start to counteract the effects of a poor diet even if it’s just making a few simple modifications. to your diet. You don’t have to view this as an all or nothing principle. What’s most important is that you start taking control of your health and take the reins of your life starting today.
Plant-based healthy fats can form part of a well-balanced and varied diet that your body needs. A diet rich in plant-based monounsaturated fats is linked to a lower risk of death from heart disease. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats from animal sources are linked to a higher risk of death from heart disease. Sources of plant-based healthy fats include:
- Nut butters
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Coconut oil
- MCT oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark Chocolate
It’s hard to think that something that happened so long ago can have such an effect on the way you eat now. But, a few questionable studies and profit margins to hit means that often false information is spread with the purpose of supporting a theory or increase product demand. By eating a varied diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains you can give your body the fuel it needs to thrive.
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