The obesity era

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The obesity era

Photo by Karen Kasmauski

As the American people got fatter, so did marmosets, vervet monkeys and mice. The problem may be bigger than any of us

David Berreby is a science writer and the author of Us and Them: The Science of Identity (2008). He lives in New York.

4700 4,700 words
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Years ago, after a plane trip spent reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground and Weight Watchers magazine, Woody Allen melded the two experiences into a single essay. ‘I am fat,’ it began. ‘I am disgustingly fat. I am the fattest human I know. I have nothing but excess poundage all over my body. My fingers are fat. My wrists are fat. My eyes are fat. (Can you imagine fat eyes?).’ It was 1968, when most of the world’s people were more or less ‘height-weight proportional’ and millions of the rest were starving. Weight Watchers was a new organisation for an exotic new problem. The notion that being fat could spur Russian-novel anguish was good for a laugh.

That, as we used to say during my Californian adolescence, was then. Now, 1968’s joke has become 2013’s truism. For the first time in human history, overweight people outnumber the underfed, and obesity is widespread in wealthy and poor nations alike. The diseases that obesity makes more likely — diabetes, heart ailments, strokes, kidney failure — are rising fast across the world, and the World Health Organisation predicts that they will be the leading causes of death in all countries, even the poorest, within a couple of years. What's more, the long-term illnesses of the overweight are far more expensive to treat than the infections and accidents for which modern health systems were designed. Obesity threatens individuals with long twilight years of sickness, and health-care systems with bankruptcy.

And so the authorities tell us, ever more loudly, that we are fat — disgustingly, world-threateningly fat. We must take ourselves in hand and address our weakness. After all, it’s obvious who is to blame for this frightening global blanket of lipids: it’s us, choosing over and over again, billions of times a day, to eat too much and exercise too little. What else could it be? If you’re overweight, it must be because you are not saying no to sweets and fast food and fried potatoes. It’s because you take elevators and cars and golf carts where your forebears nobly strained their thighs and calves. How could you do this to yourself, and to society?

Moral panic about the depravity of the heavy has seeped into many aspects of life, confusing even the erudite. Earlier this month, for example, the American evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller expressed the zeitgeist in this tweet: ‘Dear obese PhD applicants: if you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.’ Businesses are moving to profit on the supposed weaknesses of their customers. Meanwhile, governments no longer presume that their citizens know what they are doing when they take up a menu or a shopping cart. Yesterday’s fringe notions are becoming today’s rules for living — such as New York City’s recent attempt to ban large-size cups for sugary soft drinks, or Denmark’s short-lived tax surcharge on foods that contain more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat, or Samoa Air’s 2013 ticket policy, in which a passenger’s fare is based on his weight because: ‘You are the master of your air ‘fair’, you decide how much (or how little) your ticket will cost.’

Several governments now sponsor jauntily named pro-exercise programmes such as Let’s Move! (US), Change4Life (UK) and actionsanté (Switzerland). Less chummy approaches are spreading, too. Since 2008, Japanese law requires companies to measure and report the waist circumference of all employees between the ages of 40 and 74 so that, among other things, anyone over the recommended girth can receive an email of admonition and advice.

Hand-in-glove with the authorities that promote self-scrutiny are the businesses that sell it, in the form of weight-loss foods, medicines, services, surgeries and new technologies. A Hong Kong company named Hapilabs offers an electronic fork that tracks how many bites you take per minute in order to prevent hasty eating: shovel food in too fast and it vibrates to alert you. A report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co predicted in May 2012 that ‘health and wellness’ would soon become a trillion-dollar global industry. ‘Obesity is expensive in terms of health-care costs,’ it said before adding, with a consultantly chuckle, ‘dealing with it is also a big, fat market.’

And so we appear to have a public consensus that excess body weight (defined as a Body Mass Index of 25 or above) and obesity (BMI of 30 or above) are consequences of individual choice. It is undoubtedly true that societies are spending vast amounts of time and money on this idea. It is also true that the masters of the universe in business and government seem attracted to it, perhaps because stern self-discipline is how many of them attained their status. What we don’t know is whether the theory is actually correct.

Higher levels of female obesity correlated with higher levels of gender inequality in each nation

Of course, that’s not the impression you will get from the admonishments of public-health agencies and wellness businesses. They are quick to assure us that ‘science says’ obesity is caused by individual choices about food and exercise. As the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, recently put it, defending his proposed ban on large cups for sugary drinks: ‘If you want to lose weight, don’t eat. This is not medicine, it’s thermodynamics. If you take in more than you use, you store it.’ (Got that? It’s not complicated medicine, it’s simple physics, the most sciencey science of all.)

Yet the scientists who study the biochemistry of fat and the epidemiologists who track weight trends are not nearly as unanimous as Bloomberg makes out. In fact, many researchers believe that personal gluttony and laziness cannot be the entire explanation for humanity’s global weight gain. Which means, of course, that they think at least some of the official focus on personal conduct is a waste of time and money. As Richard L Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin and editor of the International Journal of Obesity, put it in 2005: ‘The previous belief of many lay people and health professionals that obesity is simply the result of a lack of willpower and an inability to discipline eating habits is no longer defensible.’

Consider, for example, this troublesome fact, reported in 2010 by the biostatistician David B Allison and his co-authors at the University of Alabama in Birmingham: 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. In fact, the researchers examined records on those eight species and found that average weight for every one had increased. The marmosets gained an average of nine per cent per decade. Lab mice gained about 11 per cent per decade. Chimps, for some reason, are doing especially badly: their average body weight had risen 35 per cent per decade. Allison, who had been hearing about an unexplained rise in the average weight of lab animals, was nonetheless surprised by the consistency across so many species. ‘Virtually in every population of animals we looked at, that met our criteria, there was the same upward trend,’ he told me.

It isn’t hard to imagine that people who are eating more themselves are giving more to their spoiled pets, or leaving sweeter, fattier garbage for street cats and rodents. But such results don’t explain why the weight gain is also occurring in species that human beings don’t pamper, such as animals in labs, whose diets are strictly controlled. In fact, lab animals’ lives are so precisely watched and measured that the researchers can rule out accidental human influence: records show those creatures gained weight over decades without any significant change in their diet or activities. Obviously, if animals are getting heavier along with us, it can’t just be that they’re eating more Snickers bars and driving to work most days. On the contrary, the trend suggests some widely shared cause, beyond the control of individuals, which is contributing to obesity across many species.

Such a global hidden factor (or factors) might help to explain why most people gain weight gradually, over decades, in seeming contradiction of Bloomberg’s thermodynamics. This slow increase in fat stores would suggest that they are eating only a tiny bit more each month than they use in fuel. But if that were so, as Jonathan C K Wells, professor of child nutrition at University College London, has pointed out, it would be easy to lose weight. One recent model estimated that eating a mere 30 calories a day more than you use is enough to lead to serious weight gain. Given what each person consumes in a day (1,500 to 2,000 calories in poorer nations; 2,500 to 4,000 in wealthy ones), 30 calories is a trivial amount: by my calculations, that’s just two or three peanut M&Ms. If eliminating that little from the daily diet were enough to prevent weight gain, then people should have no trouble losing a few pounds. Instead, as we know, they find it extremely hard.

Many other aspects of the worldwide weight gain are also difficult to square with the ‘it’s-just-thermodynamics’ model. In rich nations, obesity is more prevalent in people with less money, education and status. Even in some poor countries, according to a survey published last year in the International Journal of Obesity, increases in weight over time have been concentrated among the least well-off. And the extra weight is unevenly distributed among the sexes, too. In a study published in the Social Science and Medicine journal last year, Wells and his co-authors found that, in a sample that spanned 68 nations, for every two obese men there were three obese women. Moreover, the researchers found that higher levels of female obesity correlated with higher levels of gender inequality in each nation. Why, if body weight is a matter of individual decisions about what to eat, should it be affected by differences in wealth or by relations between the sexes?

Chemicals ingested on Tuesday might promote more fat retention on Wednesday

To make sense of all this, the purely thermodynamic model must appeal to complicated indirect effects. The story might go like this: being poor is stressful, and stress makes you eat, and the cheapest food available is the stuff with a lot of ‘empty calories’, therefore poorer people are fatter than the better-off. These wheels-within-wheels are required because the mantra of the thermodynamic model is that ‘a calorie is a calorie is a calorie’: who you are and what you eat are irrelevant to whether you will add fat to your frame. The badness of a ‘bad’ food such as a Cheeto is that it makes calorie intake easier than it would be with broccoli or an apple.

Yet a number of researchers have come to believe, as Wells himself wrote earlier this year in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that ‘all calories are not equal’. The problem with diets that are heavy in meat, fat or sugar is not solely that they pack a lot of calories into food; it is that they alter the biochemistry of fat storage and fat expenditure, tilting the body’s system in favour of fat storage. Wells notes, for example, that sugar, trans-fats and alcohol have all been linked to changes in ‘insulin signalling’, which affects how the body processes carbohydrates. This might sound like a merely technical distinction. In fact, it’s a paradigm shift: if the problem isn’t the number of calories but rather biochemical influences on the body’s fat-making and fat-storage processes, then sheer quantity of food or drink are not the all-controlling determinants of weight gain. If candy’s chemistry tilts you toward fat, then the fact that you eat it at all may be as important as the amount of it you consume.

More importantly, ‘things that alter the body’s fat metabolism’ is a much wider category than food. Sleeplessness and stress, for instance, have been linked to disturbances in the effects of leptin, the hormone that tells the brain that the body has had enough to eat. What other factors might be at work? Viruses, bacteria and industrial chemicals have all entered the sights of obesity research. So have such aspects of modern life as electric light, heat and air conditioning. All of these have been proposed, with some evidence, as direct causes of weight gain: the line of reasoning is not that stress causes you to eat more, but rather that it causes you to gain weight by directly altering the activities of your cells. If some or all of these factors are indeed contributing to the worldwide fattening trend, then the thermodynamic model is wrong.

We are, of course, surrounded by industrial chemicals. According to Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri, an organic compound called bisphenol-A (or BPA) that is used in many household plastics has the property of altering fat regulation in lab animals. And a recent study by Leonardo Trasande and colleagues at the New York University School of Medicine with a sample size of 2,838 American children and teens found that, for the majority, those with the highest levels of BPA in their urine were five times more likely to be obese than were those with the lowest levels.

BPA has been used so widely — in everything from children’s sippy cups to the aluminium in fizzy drink cans — that almost all residents of developed nations have traces of it in their pee. This is not to say that BPA is unique. In any developed or developing nation there are many compounds in the food chain that seem, at the very least, to be worth studying as possible ‘obesogens’ helping to tip the body’s metabolism towards obesity. For example, a study by the Environmental Working Group of the umbilical cords of 10 babies born in US hospitals in 2004 found 287 different industrial chemicals in their blood. Beatrice Golomb, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, has proposed a long list of candidates — all chemicals that, she has written, disrupt the normal process of energy storage and use in cells. Her suspects include heavy metals in the food supply, chemicals in sunscreens, cleaning products, detergents, cosmetics and the fire retardants that infuse bedclothes and pyjamas.

Chemicals and metals might promote obesity in the short term by altering the way that energy is made and stored within cells, or by changing the signals in the fat-storage process so that the body makes more fat cells, or larger fat cells. They could also affect the hormones that spur or tamp down the appetite. In other words, chemicals ingested on Tuesday might promote more fat retention on Wednesday.

It’s also possible that chemical disrupters could affect people’s body chemistry on longer timescales — starting, for instance, before their birth. Contrary to its popular image of serene imperturbability, a developing foetus is in fact acutely sensitive to the environment into which it will be born, and a key source of information about that environment is the nutrition it gets via the umbilical cord. As David J P Barker, professor of clinical epidemiology of the University of Southampton, noted some 20 years ago, where mothers have gone hungry, their offspring are at a greater risk of obesity. The prenatal environment, Barker argued, tunes the children’s metabolism for a life of scarcity, preparing them to store fat whenever they can, to get them through periods of want. If those spells of scarcity never materialise, the child’s proneness to fat storage ceases to be an advantage. The 40,000 babies gestated during Holland’s ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944-1945 grew up to have more obesity, more diabetes and more heart trouble than their compatriots who developed without the influence of war-induced starvation.

It’s possible that widespread electrification is promoting obesity by making humans eat at night, when our ancestors were asleep

Just to double down on the complexity of the question, a number of researchers also think that industrial compounds might be affecting these signals. For example, Bruce Blumberg, professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California, Irvine, has found that pregnant mice exposed to organotins (tin-based chemical compounds that are used in a wide variety of industries) will have heavier offspring than mice in the same lab who were not so exposed. In other words, the chemicals might be changing the signal that the developing foetus uses to set its metabolism. More disturbingly, there is evidence that this ‘foetal programming’ could last more than one generation. A good predictor of your birth weight, for instance, is your mother’s weight at her birth.

Daily Weekly

Lurking behind these prime suspects, there are the fugitive possibilities — what David Allison and another band of co-authors recently called the ‘roads less travelled’ of obesity research. For example, consider the increased control civilisation gives people over the temperature of their surroundings. There is a ‘thermoneutral zone’ in which a human body can maintain its normal internal temperature without expending energy. Outside this zone, when it’s hot enough to make you sweat or cold enough to make you shiver, the body has to expend energy to maintain homeostasis. Temperatures above and below the neutral zone have been shown to cause both humans and animals to burn fat, and hotter conditions also have an indirect effect: they make people eat less. A restaurant on a warm day whose air conditioning breaks down will see a sharp decline in sales (yes, someone did a study). Perhaps we are getting fatter in part because our heaters and air conditioners are keeping us in the thermoneutral zone.

And what about light? A study by Laura Fonken and colleagues at the Ohio State University in Columbus, published in 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that mice exposed to extra light (experiencing either no dark at all or a sort of semidarkness instead of total night) put on nearly 50 per cent more weight than mice fed the same diet who lived on a normal night-day cycle of alternating light and dark. This effect might be due to the constant light robbing the rodents of their natural cues about when to eat. Wild mice eat at night, but night-deprived mice might have been eating during the day, at the ‘wrong’ time physiologically. It’s possible that widespread electrification is promoting obesity by making humans eat at night, when our ancestors were asleep.

There is also the possibility that obesity could quite literally be contagious. A virus called Ad-36, known for causing eye and respiratory infections in people, also has the curious property of causing weight gain in chickens, rats, mice and monkeys. Of course, it would be unethical to test for this effect on humans, but it is now known that antibodies to the virus are found in a much higher percentage of obese people than in people of normal weight. A research review by Tomohide Yamada and colleagues at the University of Tokyo in Japan, published last year in the journal PLoS One, found that people who had been infected with Ad-36 had significantly higher BMI than those who hadn’t.

As with viruses, so with bacteria. Experiments by Lee Kaplan and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston earlier this year found that bacteria from mice that have lost weight will, when placed in other mice, apparently cause those mice to lose weight, too. And a study in humans by Ruchi Mathur and colleagues at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism earlier this year, found that those who were overweight were more likely than others to have elevated populations of a gut microorganisms called Methanobrevibacter smithii. The researchers speculated that these organisms might in fact be especially good at digesting food, yielding up more nutrients and thus contributing to weight gain.

The researcher who first posited a viral connection in 1992 — he had noticed that the chickens in India that were dead of an adenovirus infection were plump instead of gaunt — was Nikhil Dhurandhar, now a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Louisiana. He has proposed a catchy term for the spread of excess weight via bugs and viruses: ‘infectobesity’.

No one has claimed, or should claim, that any of these ‘roads less taken’ is the one true cause of obesity, to drive out the false idol of individual choice. Neither should we imagine that the existence of alternative theories means that governments can stop trying to forestall a major public-health menace. These theories are important for a different reason. Their very existence — the fact that they are plausible, with some supporting evidence and suggestions for further research — gives the lie to the notion that obesity is a closed question, on which science has pronounced its final word. It might be that every one of the ‘roads less travelled’ contributes to global obesity; it might be that some do in some places and not in others. The openness of the issue makes it clear that obesity isn’t a simple school physics experiment.

We are increasingly understanding that attributing obesity to personal responsibility is very simplistic

This is the theme of perhaps the most epic of the alternative theories of obesity, put forward by Jonathan C K Wells. As I understand his view, obesity is like poverty, or financial booms and busts, or war — a large-scale development that no one deliberately intends, but which emerges out of the millions of separate acts that together make human history. His model suggests that the best Russian novelist to invoke when thinking about obesity isn’t Dostoyevsky, with his self-punishing anguish, but Leo Tolstoy, with his vast perspective on the forces of history.

In Wells’s theory, the claim that individual choice drives worldwide weight gain is an illusion — like the illusion that individuals can captain their fates independent of history. In reality, Tolstoy wrote at the end of War and Peace (1869), we are moved by social forces we do not perceive, just as the Earth moves through space, driven by physical forces we do not feel. Such is the tenor of Wells’s explanation for modern obesity. Its root cause, he proposed last year in the American Journal of Human Biology, is nothing less than the history of capitalism.

I will paraphrase Wells’s intricate argument (the only one I’ve ever read that references both receptor pathways for leptin and data on the size of the Indian economy in the 18th century). It is a saga spanning many generations. Let's start with a poor farmer growing food crops in a poor country in Africa or Asia. In a capitalistic quest for new markets and cheap materials and labour, Europeans take control of the economy in the late 18th or early 19th century. With taxes, fees and sometimes violent repression, their new system strongly ‘encourages’ the farmer and his neighbours to stop growing their own food and start cultivating some more marketable commodity instead – coffee for export, perhaps. Now that they aren’t growing food, the farmers must buy it. But since everyone is out to maximise profit, those who purchase the coffee crop strive to pay as little as possible, and so the farmers go hungry. Years later, when the farmer’s children go to work in factories, they confront the same logic: they too are paid as little as possible for their labour. By changing the farming system, capitalism first removes traditional protections against starvation, and then pushes many previously self-sufficient people into an economic niche where they aren't paid enough to eat well.

Eighty years later, the farmer’s descendants have risen out of the ranks of the poor and joined the fast-growing ranks of the world’s 21st-century middle-class consumers, thanks to globalisation and outsourcing. Capitalism welcomes them: these descendants are now prime targets to live the obesogenic life (the chemicals, the stress, the air conditioning, the elevators-instead-of-stairs) and to buy the kinds of foods and beverages that are ‘metabolic disturbers’.

But that’s not the worst of it. As I’ve mentioned, the human body’s response to its nutrition can last a lifetime, and even be passed on to the next generation. If you or your parents – or their parents – were undernourished, you’re more likely to become obese in a food-rich environment. Moreover, obese people, when they have children, pass on changes in metabolism that can predispose the next generation to obesity as well. Like the children of underfed people, the children of the overfed have their metabolism set in ways that tend to promote obesity. This means that a past of undernutrition, combined with a present of overnutrition, is an obesity trap.

Wells memorably calls this double-bind the ‘metabolic ghetto’, and you can’t escape it just by turning poor people into middle-class consumers: that turn to prosperity is precisely what triggers the trap. ‘Obesity,’ he writes, ‘like undernutrition, is thus fundamentally a state of malnutrition, in each case promoted by powerful profit-led manipulations of the global supply and quality of food.’

The trap is deeper than that, however. The ‘unifying logic of capitalism’, Wells continues, requires that food companies seek immediate profit and long-term success, and their optimal strategy for that involves encouraging people to choose foods that are most profitable to produce and sell — ‘both at the behavioural level, through advertising, price manipulations and restriction of choice, and at the physiological level through the enhancement of addictive properties of foods’ (by which he means those sugars and fats that make ‘metabolic disturber’ foods so habit-forming). In short, Wells told me via email, ‘We need to understand that we have not yet grasped how to address this situation, but we are increasingly understanding that attributing obesity to personal responsibility is very simplistic.’ Rather than harping on personal responsibility so much, Wells believes, we should be looking at the global economic system, seeking to reform it so that it promotes access to nutritious food for everyone. That is, admittedly, a tall order. But the argument is worth considering, if only as a bracing critique of our individual-responsibility ideology of fatness.

What are we onlookers — non-activists, non-scientists — to make of these scientific debates? One possible response, of course, is to decide that no obesity policy is possible, because ‘science is undecided’. But this is a moron’s answer: science is never completely decided; it is always in a state of change and self-questioning, and it offers no final answers. There is never a moment in science when all doubts are gone and all questions settled, which is why ‘wait for settled science’ is an argument advanced by industries that want no interference with their status quo.

Making policy, as the British politician Wayland Young once said, is ‘the art of taking good decisions on insufficient evidence’. Faced with signs of a massive public-health crisis in the making, governments are right to seek to do something, using the best information that science can render, in the full knowledge that science will have different information to offer in 10 or 20 years.

The issue, rather, is whether the government policies and corporate business plans are in fact doing their best with the evidence they already have. Does the science justify assuming that obesity is a simple matter of individuals letting themselves eat too much? To the extent that it is, policies such as Japan’s mandatory waist-measuring and products like the Hapifork will be effective. If, on the other hand, there is more to obesity than simple thermodynamics, some of the billions spent on individual-centred policies and products may be being wasted. Time, in that case, to try some alternative policies based on alternative theories, and see how they fare.

Today’s priests of obesity prevention proclaim with confidence and authority that they have the answer. So did Bruno Bettelheim in the 1950s, when he blamed autism on mothers with cold personalities. So, for that matter, did the clerics of 18th-century Lisbon, who blamed earthquakes on people’s sinful ways. History is not kind to authorities whose mistaken dogmas cause unnecessary suffering and pointless effort, while ignoring the real causes of trouble. And the history of the obesity era has yet to be written.

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  • Helen Hayward

    What a terrific romp through some tricky areas of science. Followed you all the way. Much needed thinking for a 'quick let's solve it' problem. My teenage daughter was, by the way, particularly turned off by the image...

  • Nicholas

    Nothing about High Fructose Corn Syrup? The sheer amount of processes additives to many foods may explain a lot.

    • Chloe Dawson

      The problem with laying it all at the feet of HFCS is that it's an additive that's not used in many countries which are also experiencing rising rates of obesity.

      • SK

        I'm trying to figure out which countries don't use HFCS...I am very familiar with Malaysia, Indonesia, and parts of central America - the growing middle class is guzzling coke, buying donuts / KFC / frappaccinos / processed snacks / etc faster and in larger quantities than ever in history. Diabetes and other obesity-related diseases have shot up. The middle class can afford rich fatty, sugary foods that would have been reserved for special occasions. I see people in Malaysia eating fried chicken, super rich oily meat curries, fried bread, and corn syrup sweetened soda, tea, fruit flavored syrup drinks, etc every single day. This is in stark contrast to the modest portions of a decade or two ago and more village-grown food, a typical meal consisting of rice, a veg, a curry and maybe a hard boiled egg, tofu or small piece of chicken. Since I started traveling and working in 'developing' countries, I have noticed dramatic changes in consumption.

        • KH

          Most countries use sugar rather than HFCS, though. It's used in the US because of ridiculous tariffs on sugar that simply don't exist in other countries - take the EU, for example, where obesity is also high, but HFCS is not commonly used at all.

      • agdouglas

        HFCS is used in countries that are adopting American style fast foods. So is genetically modified grain.

  • EP

    Not up to Aeon's standard fare.

    These absurdly roundabout alternative causes, while they should be strongly investigated in the scientific community, are not viable excuses for obesity.

    What the author seeks to do is argue from:

    A. It may be the case that obesity is not ENTIRELY determined by caloric intake. This is unproven in humans directly, but it may be the case. No mention is made of how these alternative contributing factors of obesity (imagine, you eat a cheesecake every day, I drink from a BPA water bottle, and we'll see who gains weight faster!)

    B. Humans therefore are merely cogs in the great wheels of history and it is not their fault they are fat.

    This leads to hilarious conclusions like such:

    "If, on the other hand, there is more to obesity than simple thermodynamics, some of the billions spent on individual-centred policies and products may be being wasted. "

    What a jokish conclusion - if the major driving factors of obesity is diet and exercise (or the lack of it) which nobody can deny (even if they accept other minor causes), this is a hilariously jump away from any evidence brought to bear in this essay.

    Unconvincing and apologist in manner, although well-written.

    • Ed Lake

      The question then becomes, how minor are the minor factors? How decisive are diet and exercise? These seem like real empirical questions, the answers to which should influence health policy. Are you entirely unperturbed by the weight gain in laboratory animals, for instance?

      • EP

        No, I'm certainly perturbed by it - but I'm aware that in the last 40 years most animal models have become genetic monocultures - given the general seclusion of animal models this seems a more relevant factor than the BPA in household objects, or any other explanation made up here. Given this better explanation (genetic monoculture leads to accumulation of genetic/epigenetic problems) which is well-known to include obesity, this connection seems extremely tenuous.

        The author's claims are merely a lot of hinting and forging of ambiguous connections.

        My exact problem is that this essay promotes an abdication of personal responsibility to an incredibly vague and unproven notion of "outside influence."

        In fact, there are few domains which I can think of which we are as free to choose in as the domain of our bodies. We can put tattoos on them, we can exercise them, we can eat what we want and when we want. While our bodies may fail us by developing cancer or suffering from a severe injury, it is more common for us to fail our bodies.

        Defining obesity as a disease is pathetic - it's like defining poverty as a "disease." Everyone is against poverty and obesity, but saying that they are "diseases" should be an obvious fallacy, but also a notably dangerous one.

        I see this as a continuation of our movement away from personal responsibility - brain scans moving into courtrooms, ADHD is everywhere, and now being overweight is classified as a disease.

        If we cannot be responsible for our own bodies, what can we be responsible for?

        • bb

          "(imagine, you eat a cheesecake every day, I drink from a BPA
          water bottle, and we'll see who gains weight faster!)"

          I would love to see you experimentally given medically supervised hormonal imbalances, while your friend is given a cheesecake to eat every day. Sounds like the results may surprise you.

          • EP

            Please don't purposefully misunderstand me - I said that I would drink from a water bottle using trace amounts of PBA every day, and someone else would eat cheesecake every day, and obviously the person who ate cheesecake would gain weight much faster, while the PBA water bottle person might not at all.

            If you cannot understand the difference between trace amounts of chemicals vs direct injection of hormones you have no business reading/commenting on articles like these.

          • B P

            First of all, it is BPA not PBA. Secondly, trace amounts of chemicals add up. Look at tuna and mercury content. Why is it higher in tuna than other sea life? Because tuna are top of the food chain with long lifespans. So are humans. We are not talking about negligible amounts or they wouldn't be able to test for these substances in urine. He mentioned numerous chemicals which may have an impact beyond BPAs. And many of these chemicals have not been around long enough to have knowledge of the long term effects on the human body.

          • Sara Mansell LeMay

            The problem is that drinking from the BPA bottle may cause YOU to want to eat a piece of cheesecake every day. We all know that restricting calories will work **in the short term** to reduce weight. Short term solutions do not solve long term problems. Why does a successful dieter put weight back on? Do you think 95% of people who diet to lose weight put back on the weight because they want to be fat? They obviously know how to diet, they have enough willpower - why do they go back to old habits? Most people are not stupid, and nobody actually chooses to be overweight. We need to look at what factors are driving people to eat this way and look at interventions that can be made at that stage. It is not impossible to lose and keep off weight long term, but it is exceedingly difficult. EXCEEDINGLY difficult. Look at the poster up above who says his diet is so strict he only eats a few bites of cake a few times a year. How does a normal person live like that in our society? I kind of got away from your point about the BPA there...

          • ATRusso

            You have touched on a very good point that I believe many of the posters here have missed. While it is true that ultimately calories consumed vs calories expended dictate weight gain or loss what many fail to consider is what drives people to consume more calories than they need and/or what is influencing the way macronutrients are metabolized.
            If one were to consume just the right amount of calories to maintain bodyweight and then be exposed to certain environmental perturbations, BPA (or other xenoestrogens) for example, then they might start slowly gaining fat despite eating the same or even fewer calories. Why don't our appetites self regulate anymore? Why is it necessary to actively resist the urge to eat inappropriately? These questions go far beyond the simple calories in/calories out scenarios.

          • HumanityBlows

            ...aaaand what about the weight gain in animal populations who get their diet from the wild? Fugg off smug rich white snot.

          • EP

            IF: I don't agree with someone's opinion about the cause of weight gain in animals
            ==> THEN: racism.

            That's a fine model, a fine model.

          • agdouglas

            How can you predict that result when you don't even have subjects?

    • Chloe Dawson

      But even if you believe that obesity is nothing more than thermodynamics and is about diet and exercise, then individual-centred policies may still be a waste of money - if the way work and the urban environment is being configured is promoting weight gain, then no amount of exhorting people to stop eating so much is going to help. You need to change the triggers, to achieve anything at a population level.

      • bsaunders

        The thermodynamics line is a gross oversimplification. People who lose weight by eating less and exercising more do change their biochemistry. The changes in biochemistry help to regulate the appetite itself. Increased "willpower" is oftentimes a result not a cause.

    • agdouglas

      Actually, what you have written in support of the thermodynamic model is an apologist piece.

    • Eli

      You haven't understood the main thesis of the article, and you mocking a serious subject.
      The idea is that chronically high insulin levels causes obesity, and not calorie imbalance - which is a radical revision that changes everything, This is the main point.
      I can suggest a different experiment than yours (plastic bottle vs cheese-cake)
      You eat cheese cake as much as you like, I'll eat meat or any other food that has low insulin response (greens, cheese, eggs, poultry, fish etc..) in any quantity I'll like, i.e. ad-libitum feeding.

      I can guarantee you from experience and research that you'll get fat eventually (after your metabolism will be overwhelmed by insulin) and I will not.

      The "if the major driving factors of obesity is diet and exercise" is the jokish conclusion, in fact it is much more logical that overeating and sloth are consequences of a deranged metabolism and are correlated with overweight and not the cause of it.

      • Jessamine

        "... I'll eat meat or any other food that has low insulin response (greens, cheese, eggs, poultry, fish etc..) in any quantity I'll like, i.e. ad-libitum feeding.

        I can guarantee you from experience and research that you'll get fat eventually ...and I will not."

        Glad that works for you. I eat low-insulin response foods, but can't eat them ad libitum or I gain weight.

  • Catherine Cox

    So – are women who severely their restrict caloric intake in order to be fashionably thin (or to increase longevity) in fact setting their offspring up to be obese?

    • Andrew

      No. Limited caloric intake will probably make the children thin. Repeated "diets" with periods of starvation and gorging would cause obesity.

      • Rachael J

        She said severely limit their caloric intake, not just limit it. So, I think she was talking more like anorexic behavior.

  • jack

    This is brilliant. Well done. Very well written, very informative, very thought-provoking.

  • Jonathan Led Larsen

    Interesting article. But... a central argument for the broader explanation of obesity is that lab animals too have gained weight. There could be many reasons for this - even though their diet is strictly controlled.

    Most prominent, I think, is that lab animals are a refined species. Lab animals are bred for sitting around in cages, generation after generation - and they become more and more distant from their natural behavior. Perhaps more docile and inactive - and because of that they also become fatter on the same diet.

    Some researcher actually argue, that some species of lab animals no longer are fit for using in research because of this breeding selection (see fx. Panksepp 2012). Lab rats, for example, simply does not play.

    Although chemicals etc. definitely is a problem there is one big issue the article does not ponder: Commercials and advertising promoting unhealthy food. Chocolate bars, ice cream, soda, burgers etc. Somehow it has become so that you cannot leave you house without being reminded of all sorts of tasty-but-not-really-food items. Nor can you turn on the television.

    This communicative angle on the obesity problem is also a non-individual explanation and would - if it has truth to it - also demand collective action.

    • mmer

      //... bred for sitting around in cages, generation after
      generation - and they become more and more distant from their natural
      behavior. Perhaps more docile and inactive//

      That narrative sounds familiar, maybe it could apply to another species.

    • Rachael J

      He said that they had the same diet AND activity level.

    • Timothy

      Shut up, we're getting fat because of magic, not because we're eating more and moving less!

      • Coyoty

        Okay, who pissed off the gypsy who pointed at us and said, "Fatter!"?

    • Cedric Justice

      The elephant in the room for me is not only the pervasive industrial chemicals (that's a good theory), but the for-profit food markets. I travel all over the world and see similar eating and drinking habits... but America is the fattest. Even more than Canadians. To me, it's got to be a combination of things, but the food supply and what is IN it has to have some impact. Lab animals eat local food...

      • Bonnie

        I have traveled in America for three weeks, and toured into Los Angeles, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas - the usual. I was stunned when if first came to eating out. I'm small framed (about 160 cm and 55 kg), and I often leave food at the restaurant, because the portions are too big. In America I was full after eating one-third of the portion! And it was just the main course! And you know, we eat our steaks with fries or rice - but at that plate, there was a steak the size of my three hands, AND rice, AND fries, AND corn. It was a dinner for three. Then, I thought it just might be that one restaurant. We went to another, I've ordered crab salad. I thought this time I get a healthy option. Well I got a bowl full of salad the size of my head! All dripping in mayonnaise. And rice, and corn in it :D Some salad! So we went next time to the Mexican restaurant... big portion, but kind of normal. However that was in Los Angeles already, and that population looks a bit different than the people I saw elsewhere. Once we ate at MacDonald's at the road and surprisingly the portions were the most predictable, though some of the burgers I did not order would make two meals instead of one. People drink soda with that and I think it's a problem.

        Americans, you just eat too much! It's a fact. And it's hard to scale down once your body set the program to eat that much. I know, because as I'm in my thirties keeping proper weight isn't a painless activity as it was when I was 20.
        I am laughing especially at your latest diet fad, "no gluten". Well, if somebody does not eat gluten, he will also stop eating donuts, white buns, sweet buns, hamburgers, cookies, wafers... of course he/she will get trimmer! I don't fight the fad however, I have friends who have a genuine celiac disease and they are happy they have so many food choices now that the companies followed the fad.

        • Bonnie

          Also, I will add, I bought genuine American cookies in geniuine American supermarket ;-D And I'l tell you that the same brands in US have bigger, fatter, sweeter products than in Europe. Also, American ice cream seems to be made of butter instead of cream...

          • Agrajag

            This ain't a secret. Heinz tomato ketchup has almost three times the calories, compared to the most popular local brand here in Norway, because it's significantly sweeter.

        • Loudoun Prepper

          I can't argue with you... I truly think its a "perfect storm" combination of 1. Too much- portions, serving size, you name it. 2. The processed foods that are cheapest 3. The lack of activity- we drive everywhere. The excuse used to be... "well, Europeans smoke a lot, that's why they're all so thin." I've had the opportunity to travel to the UK and Germany in the course of my work. Cambridge, London, Frankurt, Munich, Berlin... excellent food and drink...... completely different portions and not half as many obese persons. the following autumn I visited Disneyworld in Florida... over half of the adults were obese and in scooters!!! so eye opening... excellent essay.

        • minstrelmike

          Portion size hasn't changed for lab animals.

        • edmeese

          If you're going to eat out in the United States, McDonald's is actually one of your better choices. The calories are listed on the menu, and a salad with grilled chicken plus a diet cola is a very reasonable option.

        • HahaOhWow

          Honestly, living in America, most of the people I know complain about portion sizes at restaurants. My SO and I generally end up eating for two days with the leftovers we get from eating out. At least it makes some of the prices more reasonable! :T

      • James

        "it's got to be a combination of things" is just what I was thinking as I read through the comments area. I practice mindfulness eating and establish connection with the food I eat, which is why I grow a garden full of fresh veggies and eat slowly. I believe when we promote sustainable communities who are empowered to live a balance lifestyle we see tremendous positive change like we've seen in stories like 'The Good Food Revolution' or Spark by John Ratey

      • Agrajag

        There's surely more than one reason. But it's a fact that if you sell food, then it's *profitable* to make food that is deliberately constructed in such a way that people will want to eat as much as possible of it, while having as cheap ingredients as possible.

        The food supply is what it is because the free market is what it is.

        • Cedric Justice

          Wow... you're right. I forgot that nugget. So is a socialised food supply a reasonable answer? History suggests that's problematic, especially given our disastrous Farm Bills and food rationing in communist countries. Are there other models for avoiding this for-profit food model. Because, now that you mention it, that is one of the problems I have with eating out sometimes: low quality food at high prices--the system inherently rewards that paradigm.

          • Agrajag

            I'm not sure what "the" answer is, indeed I suspect that there's isn't one single answer, but instead a large collection of ideas that together can help.

            The good news is that today, most people *do* care about health, and given adequate information, they will tend to prefer healthier food if the price-differential ain't huge.

            One idea is improving information. The macros are already on the packaging, and that's a good idea. I think the recent addition of a requirement for chain-restaurant to also print macros for their menu, is a good idea.

            And I think it might be a good idea to use the tax-structure to make healthier food cheaper. For example here in Norway there's generally 16% VAT on food. I think it'd be preferable if the VAT was 0% on vegetables and 30% on twinkies, allthough I do see the problematic aspects of categorising the food. (Atkins-followers tend to consider bacon and cream preferable to potatoes -- other people see that differently)

            The tax-structure should be more health-friendly in general. It's ridicolous that if my employer spends $2000/year to rent a parking-space for my car then this is entirely tax-free (for me and my employer) while if he offers a "no-car" incentive where he sponsors fitness-equipment or fitness-activities of your choice for the same amount to those employees who do not drive -- then I'd have to pay my normal tax-rate on those $2000, and taxes would fall on the employer as well.

            There's some encouraging signs. For example bread here in Norway has for the last 5 years all been marked according to how much full-grain they contain (as opposed to white flour). Now, if you go in a shop, 90% of the shelf-space is taken up by the breads on the top of that scale, that definitely wasn't so a decade ago.

    • IndigoRed

      Been saying for that we need healthier lab rats.

    • agdouglas

      Since the change has been relatively sudden on a scale of things- animals have been kept in captivity for millennia- it seems more likely something has entered the food supply, probably through grains. Monsanto and its products need another look.

    • minstrelmike

      I had the same concern about lab animals.

      But not about feral rats.

      And this finding is bizarre: "researchers found that higher levels of female obesity correlated with higher levels of gender inequality in each nation. Why, if body weight is a matter of individual decisions about what to eat, should it be affected by differences in wealth or by relations between the sexes?"

      • Agrajag

        That makes perfect sense to me. More inequality basically means that women spend more time at home. But at home today means microwave, dishwasher, washing-machine, tv and one or two kids. That's pretty passive. In contrast, if you leave the home, odds are you'll walk atleast a few steps just to get to the parking-space, and *some* of the stuff people do outside the home is physically active. Also, at home you're never more than 50 steps from the fridge.

        The most inequal societies has many restrictions on women. If you're female and live in Iran, your opportunities for sport are severly restricted compared to the opportunities for men. Doing things like taking a swim in the lake, or biking to work is inacceptible, while a man would be free to do such things.

  • ArchiesBoy

    Some of the responses on this thread are predictably smug and arrogant, made by people who undoubtedly have no weight problems, of that I am certain. Those things that seem not to "make sense" are so easily dismissed out of hand. But just because something makes sense doesn't mean it's true, and something that doesn't, doesn't mean it's false.

    I have had serious weight problems for the past 50+ years. Believe me, I've tried everything. Those who say it's just a matter of willpower don't know what they're talking about and can go perform a physical impossibility on themselves. There are fat people in my family. I would say it's a combination of genetics, eating habits and these unknowns that the author discusses. Otherwise how could there be such across-the-board global phenomena? I am convinced that, in addition to what we know, there's a good deal more we don't.

    I am so glad that the AMA *finally* has declared obesity a disease. That's a game changer. I will be even more glad when serious research begins to ferret out the influence of some of these elements that until now have not been factored into the equation.

    • nomoreporky

      You may think you've tried everything, but I'm guessing you didn't try eating lots of starches, some fruits and vegetables, and cutting out all animal products. I dropped all my excess weight this way. My health improved and at 67 years old, I have the most energy ever. This is closest to the natural human diet. Chimpanzee's are our closest relatives, and they are herbivores who eat small quantities of insects as a delicacy. John McDougall, MD and Caldwell Esselstyn, MD (Bill Clinton's cardiologist) are proponents of this way of eating . . . uh, minus the insects!

      • Cassandra M. A. Love

        Humans need vitamin B12, which can only be obtained from animal products. How, then, is cutting out animal products a more "natural" diet for humans?

        • Jen

          Animals get B12 from the micro-organisms in the soil, so washing your garden-fresh veggies a little less could help. Also, nutritional yeast is a good source of B12. We use it as a Parmesan substitute (with ground almonds and salt).

        • Holly

          Not true at all; in fact, this is a common misconception. Everything that a person needs to survive can be gained from vegetarian or vegan diets without vitamin supplementation. If animals randomly have the ability to generate B12, then why would we even need to eat animals in the first place? Unless you're suggesting that humans are the only animals that aren't capable of producing B12 on their own?

          • Cassandra M. A. Love

            Well, herbivores get from bacteria in their rumen or by eating their shit (cecotrope). You don't have a rumen, and you (probably) don't eat your shit. So you don't have the bacteria required to generate B12 within you. Omnivores and carnivores get it from the herbivores they eat. Humans are omnivores, and like other omnivores, depend on eating herbivores to obtain B12.

          • bensix
      • oderb

        Where are the randomized trials that proves your assertion? They don't exist.

        All you have is an N=1 case.When I add starch and cut out animal products I gain weight instantly and can't lose it no matter how little or how much I eat. As soon as I cut out starch and add animal products my weight normalizes and my lipid panel improves as well. Which is also N=1 and means nothing - except to me.

        You're fortunate you found something that works for you. Don't assume it's a universal answer. EVERYBODY is different.

      • ArchiesBoy

        Oh you betcha I am doing exactly what you suggest: starch, fruits and vegetables, and nothing with a face! I have McDougall's "Starch Solution" and plenty of other stuff as well. Then another part is cutting out excess SSFF (can you guess what those letters stand for?) ;-) Still another part is exercising enough to ramp up my metabolism, which is currently on the floor...

        • GG

          Exactly. Calories are only part of the equation. A person will likely be fat, regardless of diet, if they don't get even minimal amounts of exercise (say, a 30-60 min. walk) per day. And to lose weight, you need to be more active than that minimum.

      • Jessamine

        I'm guessing you're a guy...

    • Bonnie

      It's true that there are people who have a harder time to lose weight, especially when they have been programmed for it (baby formula fed babies are often overweight for example), and I can understand that. However for one person like you there will be ten others who just eat too much and don't exercise. I think we can't judge people by how they weight, but in general America needs to eat healthier. Up there in this thread I describe my shock when I went to States and learned that everything is huge, and when you order yourself a meal at the restaurant, you could feed a family of three.

      • Teri

        Do you have data for your "1 in 10" assertion? My biological family for four generations (my grandparents, my parents, my siblings, my children) have had the same metabolism issue. I won't bore you with details but out of 13 people, 1 has had normal weight due to a lifetime of strict attention to diet and exercise, 1 has normal weight due to Crohns's disease causing an inability to digest food, 10 are 100 or more pounds overweight, and 1 is 300 pounds overweight. All have attempted weight loss with only temporary results.
        So . . . somewhere there are 117 fat people who are just lazy?

  • Chloe Dawson

    Excellent essay. What the proponents of the 'just put down the fork' view of obesity have never answered is why obesity rates began to spike in 1980 in the US, and then spread rapidly outwards into the English speaking world. If obesity is merely a breakdown of willpower, you have to conclude that human willpower suffered a catastrophic breakdown in 1980, for a reason that's never been clearly articulated.

    It's only when you stop seeing obesity as a moral problem, but as an economic one that some answers become apparent.

    As an aside, the rise of women dieting in pregnancy must also be contributing to children becoming obese, because of that effect observed during events like the Dutch hunger winter, or the Biafran famine of the 1960s.

    • Jeff Blanks

      Just another thing to blame the Dirty Freaky Hippies for. I mean, it hadn't been that much earlier, right?

    • jin choung

      really? wouldn't the explosion of cheap to produce processed foods explain it? they all tend to be high calorie density in small packages. non processed foods tend to be less calorie dense so that people get sated by eating "normally". but with processed foods, you eat "normally" and you get way more calories than you expect.

      it IS put down the fork combined with RTFLabel. there is NO fat person around who eats the GOAL WEIGHT X 12 in calories and is overweight. NONE.

      and whether you eat apples and celery or big macs, if you read the label and eat your proper amount of calories, you WILL be at the weight you want to be.

      that's it. no mystery. no conspiracy. fat is not MAGIC! it's just STUFF measured in calories. if you don't consume enough STUFF, it's not gonna be packed onto your frame. it IS thermodynamics. bloomberg is right.

      • 2ndstar

        Did you actually READ the article or just decide to close your mind and continue to statically judge.

        • jin choung

          read it.

          again - if they tracked the calories consumed by fat people, they will find their answer right there.

          everything else is chaff.

          • KJ

            " there is NO fat person around who eats the GOAL WEIGHT X 12 in calories and is overweight. NONE."

            Haha. That's cute. Please try again.

          • jin choung

            and so you believe that fat is magic? that despite the fact that there is literally no MASS, no MATERIAL left to make fat... that it just osmosizes into the body from FAT AIR?

            jesus christ, i hope for your sake that you are not as vacuous and idiotic (and completely devoid of meaningful expression) as you sound.

          • Larry171

            When my older sister was put on a diet, they initial tried a 1000 cal./day diet. She in fact gained weight! They raised her intake to 1500 cal./day and then she started losing some weight, albeit slowly which is what the doctor wanted.

          • minstrelmike

            You read the article. The _whole_ article.
            Then explain the macaques, feral rats, and pets.

          • HahaOhWow

            Why exactly do you assume scientists studying the effects of calorie intake in humans and animals did not track the amount of calories consumed?

          • Bryan J. Maloney

            But what about the lab animals, WHO HAVE NOT HAD AN INCREASE IN CALORIE CONSUMPTION? Sorry, but you didn't read the article, you just skimmed it and lied about having read it.

          • PierrePinkFlamingo

            The chow they were fed did in fact change. It was labeled as the same chow but the ingredients did in fact change.

      • Trevor Antczak

        I think there are multiple factors here. "Put the fork down" works
        when it can be maintained. If you go to sites like you can find numerous people who have lost 100's of pounds by simply keeping a journal of what they eat and how much they exercise to maintain a deficit. Even people who don't ultimately succeed in losing a lot weight with these methods admit that while they follow the advice they do certainly lose weight. They just "fall off thewagon" and can't maintain what is, realistically, a high discipline plan.

        There can be little doubt that the biochemical/thermodynamic theory of "burn more calories than you consume" is capable of working for the vast majority of people. That said, there is clearly more going on. Our choices for diet and exercise are bad, but can they be so much worse, almost universally worse, than they were even 30 years ago? Most of the problems with "food deserts", highly processed foods being the cheapest option for poor people, lack of exercise options in the inner cities, etc existed 30 or 40 years ago,yet the problem has ballooned out of proportion. I suspect that some or all of what the article brings up is true. These factors contribute to obesity, or some of them do at any rate. They don't "Make you fat", eating too much makes you fat (I know, I gained and then lost most of 70 pounds), but they can be contributing factors.

        Imagine we're bowling. Talent and practice can make you a good bowler, other people maybe not as good. Still, anyone who bowls with any regularity is likely to become at least a decent bowler; it might be a relative hard game to master, but it's pretty easy to become competent. Now imagine the lanes aren't maintained. Scuffs start showing up in the wax, boards are cracked here and there, etc. The really good bowlers can probably adjust, and among the less talented some will put in the effort to figure out the permutations, but inevitably some of the mediocre bowlers will become bad, and some of the good ones will become mediocre. You can overcome the issues with the lanes, but it's harder to bowl well than it used to be, and mistakes are costlier.

        Think of these factors not as trying to ignore the core problem of people eating too much, but trying to figure out where the lanes are messed up in the hope that we can get the playing field a little closer to level.

        • jin choung

          "That said, there is clearly more going on."

          absolutely. but almost all that other stuff is secondary and tries to sidestep personal responsibility.

          and again, as a liberal/radical, i find it hilarious that i'm touting that particular flag but here it really is within someone's realm of control... unless they have a drug like relationship with food it really is as simple as putting down the fork. right?

          you might find it hard to believe that our patterns in consumption and exercise are so different than they were 50 years ago but they really really are. whether that's an abrupt change or a gradual change over decades can be argued over but it is different.

          the biggest culprits probably are:

          - the cheapness of food

          - the cheapness of processed food (which tend to be extremely calorie dense while a the same time not very filling)

          - the universal ubiquity of processed food

          - the ubiquity of the car and the rise of tv, internet, videogames and other factors that keep you at home and/or seated.

          - the fast pace of modern life and the fact that mother's don't toil for hours every day cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner - and the corresponding rise of fast food. the difference between a home cooked meal vs. slices of pizza really can add up to a vast difference in calories consumed and satiety.

          yes, there are lots of factors at play. but the only thing people HAVE to know to keep weight off is the thermodynamics.

          IDEAL WEIGHT X 12 = calories you're allowed to consume per day.


          everything else is subordinate to that. get that right and NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.

          it doesn't matter that the fucking lab gerbils are heavier. IDEAL WEIGHT X 12... that's ALL you have to worry about. can only afford to eat snickers and yoohoos? fine, just eat IDEAL WEIGHT X 12 calories worth and you'll STILL BE SLIM!

          i wish there was a formula that simple for getting into the top 1% that EVERYONE on the planet could do. there isn't. but here, there is.

          and that is where the article gets it wrong. and gets it wrong by looking at EVERYTHING ELSE except that core problem... and even MOCKING it for fuck's sake.

          • Alba

            It isn't just the cheapness of food. I believe that cheap junk food, soda, and the like are a huge part of the issue. However, I grew up on a farm and was doing a lot of physical labour for work and fun as a child. My parents and neighbours also, and some are or were overweight, but there is a distinct difference in lifestyle between myself as a child, those neighbours, Amish neighbours walking miles and miles a week, doing hard labour even to heat homes, biking or running for fun, and the like... Gym rats are one thing, but "normal" people don't even come close to the physical efforts I grew up with. In the past tongs were even less cushy than I experienced. We cannot pretend that it is all food choices.

          • jin choung

            again, if people are mindful of the calories being consumed (and most people are not), it would be clear where the weight is coming from.

            you can become fat by eating 50 totally natural oranges every day too.

          • minstrelmike

            For those who can't actually read past the first paragraph:

            "such results don’t explain why the weight gain is also occurring in species that human beings don’t pamper, such as animals in labs, whose diets are strictly controlled. In fact, lab animals’ lives are so precisely watched and measured that the researchers can rule out accidental human influence: records show those creatures gained weight over decades without any significant change in their diet or activities. Obviously, if animals are getting heavier along with us, it can’t just be that they’re eating more Snickers bars and driving to work most days. On the contrary, the trend suggests some widely shared cause, beyond the control of individuals, which is contributing to obesity across many species."

            or this one:

            "researchers found that higher levels of female obesity correlated with higher levels of gender inequality in each nation. Why, if body weight is a matter of individual decisions about what to eat, should it be affected by differences in wealth or by relations between the sexes?"

          • jin choung

            again, for people who are incapable of comprehending replies - that is the WRONG correlation to track if one's concern is human weight gain!

            "animals are gaining weight yadda yadda yadda"

            fuck that.

            how many calories are fatties eating? THAT'S the relevant question!

            if they're eating 1500 calories a day, are six feet tall and still are gaining 50 lbs a week... THEN let's start looking for other factors.

            but if it is COMPLETELY CLEAR where the fat is coming from (as in, from consumption) then wtf is all this other shit about except a diversion at best or an excuse at worst?


            "Why, if body weight is a matter of individual decisions about what to eat, should it be affected by differences in wealth or by relations between the sexes?"

            again, the article is poorly written. it does not have CONTROLS in the studies it tosses out offhand.

            is it that such social conditions MAGICALLY cause people to get fat with no other change?


            is it the VERY UNDERSTANDABLE notion that people can start eating emotionally when under stress or when most of life's options are cordoned off?



            before you start bringing in ALLLLLL these other factors






            if it's clear from that where the fat is coming from.... CASE CLOSED!

          • Eris de Suzerain

            You do realize that there are people who can consume 1500 calories a day, exercise vigorously and have a higher theoretical calorie out to calorie in ratio and still gain weight, right? Not everyone, no - I'm not denying that there are overeaters and under-exercisers. There ARE documented, observable cases of humans who are unable to lose weight even with all of the right elements in place - and that is what this is trying to solve.

          • FreeJack

            I've never seen a single documented case where thyroid issues were not to blame for something like this. 99.9% of the time, if a human being runs a caloric deficit, they will lose fat...and there may be those whose estimated TDEE is not correct, because of a severe lack of lean body mass. Show me a study that documents non-thyroid influenced issues with fat loss, while running a caloric deficit. I'd wager you can't find any.

          • Eris de Suzerain

            I was referring the thyroid issues. I have Hashimoto's myself and have been 100 pounds to 200 pounds in weight, all with no changes in diet or exercise (the biggest flux was 50 pounds in three months down) -

          • Tracy Rowan

            Ah... I was waiting for that. "how many calories are fatties eating?" And your prejudice raises it's head and brays like a jackass. You're not worth listening to.

          • RyansTake

            you have an amazing ability to read what people say and promptly ignore it. Boooo.

          • Mr. Sorbet

            Y'know, I've been doing good losing weight via counting calories, and I even agree, that's probably the most important thing people can do! (So much as I can while admitting I'm just a random guy with next to no data).

            But FFS, they're RIGHT to mock SOME aspects of the "Personal Responsibility" argument, because at the heart of that argument there isn't just "It's in your power. You can do it!", there's also a very loud "You're a lazy idiot! Losing weight is easy and that you're fat is entirely your fault and has nothing to do with your life or environment."

            Most low-income earners have no context on calories, on eating better, or on exercising. The best they have is "Stop being fat, fatty", because that's the majority of the message in the 'responsibility' mantra.

          • James Gordon

            "absolutely. but almost all that other stuff is secondary and tries to sidestep personal responsibility."

            That's incredibly facile. To put it in different terms, it's like making the same argument about inflation. If it took my father 10 hours to make $100 to buy a $100 refrigerator in 1970, and takes me 10 hours to make $400 in 2013, but refrigerators cost $800 because the buying power of my money has fallen, you can't say I'm not working hard enough because I can't buy the same refrigerator my dad had.

            The fact that willpower plays a role isn't arguable. The article points out that human willpower is to some extent an illusion. We are drawn to do certain things by our biochemistry. If you don't believe me, try just holding your breath until you black out. Yes that's a simplistic example, but you get the point.

            Put differently, we all have a certain amount of emotional energy to expend during the day. That's not an endless reservoir. Let's say that every seductive bad choice avoided costs 1 Emot, a mythical measurement of emotional energy.

            You're certainly aware that passing up food at some times is harder than others. You've had the experience of being hungry and smelling food and having your mouth water and wanting to dig in, and other times you were satiated and simply didn't care if you ate another bite or had to stuff it in just to be polite.

            So let's say that passing up food when it's mouthwatering starving good costs 10 Emots, and passing it up when really you don't care much or its even a little effort to eat costs 1 Emot.

            If we both start the day with 20 Emots, that's all well and good. But if my biochemistry drives me to crave something that taste/sense memory tells me is in that orange and brown package and yours doesn't my Emot cost to pass up that choice is MUCH higher than yours.

            I run out of Emots quicker. Eventually you would run out of Emots too. But your biochemistry is such that you run out of Emots at about the rate your body needs to actually get food, while I (because for example I'm genetically wired to exist in a time of famine because my grandmother went hungry in the Depression while she carried my father) run out of Emots LONG before you do, and begin to cram Twinkies down my throat.

            The fiction is in believing that Willpower exists separate from bodily urges. To use a different example, if we both drink a coffee at the start of a two hour meeting, if I have a bladder infection, and need to pee every half hour, and am in aching pain within an hour, whereas you feel no pain until about two or three hours, the willpower it takes me to sit through the meeting is MUCH higher than yours. At some point I stop listening, stop being a functional participant, start crossing my legs and think I NEED TO PEE! It's not a matter of me not having enough willpower it's a matter of vastly different requirements in willpower.

          • Agrajag

            True. And demonstrably, people would make healthier choices if we made it easier. It's not magic. If you want more people to bike to work, you need more and better bike-paths. More and better bike-parking. More work-places with things like showers and wardrobes.

            Even the tax-code conspires against it: If my employer pays $1000/year to rent a parking-space for me so I can drive to work, no tax is paid on this cash. If instead, he offers to buy me a $1000 bike on the condition that I bike to work for a year, then I'll have to cough up about $300 in taxes since the bike would be "non-monetary work-compensation".

          • missnancy

            The bladder infection is a good example not only of the difference between will power and bodily requirements, but also of why some people have a hard time keeping their weight down and others do not. The people who do not have difficulty keeping their weight down fall prey to their ego and think that they have superior behavior to those who have difficulty. Most likely the person who had no problem going through the entire two hours of the meeting without needing to pee, would think that he was in same way superior to the person who had extreme difficulty making it through the full two hours. Everybody is different, what one body has no problem handling, another body has difficulty. Some bodies can handle all the chemicals and artificial ingredients in our food. This has nothing to do with calories or will power. The ego people assume that everyone who has a problem with weight overeats and probably the majority does, but not all. I do know people who do not overeat at all and they are larger than average for their height. This is like people who are born with lungs that can handle smoking everyday for 90 years and not have a problem, versus people who are born with lungs which cannot handle the cigarette smoke for very many years. It seems that from this study the percentages are increasing for the people who are overweight without over eating.

            I am tall and thin, always have been. But I recognized at a very young age in the early 50's before any mass media info about healthy eating that I did not want to eat starch, sugar or fat, because my body did not feel good when I ate these things. I eat a little bit of whole grain bread and the fat that is naturally contained in fish and skinless chicken breast. I never could stand white flour, white bread, white sugar, fat, such as under the skin of chicken, so never ate the skin, even as a child. Because I listen to my body and know my body cannot handle those things even though I know many people who can maintain good weight and eat those things. I eat fresh fruits and vegetables for at least 90% of my food. I am very sure if I could eat 1200 calories a day, especially white bread and sugar I would weigh several hundred pounds. The important thing is to know your body and not try to be like everyone else, everyone is born with a different body with different abilities.

          • Agrajag

            You forgot the fact that a generation or two ago, a lot more people had physically demanding work. Today more and more people do almost all their work sitting still in an office. On a population-average level, that has to make quite a bit of difference.

          • jin choung

            that makes a difference if you're eating like your working the farms but you're now sedentary, at a desk in front of a computer.

            that is, it's only an issue if people don't modify their diets to account for their lifestyle.

            again, idealweight * 12 works pretty well for most modern people. adust up if you're very active, adjust a bit down if you are totally immobile for some reason.

          • Eris de Suzerain

            Does not work for those with thyroid disease. I am 5'7" and I gain weight at 1200 calories a day WITH exercise.

          • jin choung

            i'm wasn't familiar with the particulars of hypothyroidism so i looked it up here:


            it seems that the problem with that disease is that it lowers metabolism.

            in that case, you would have to modify the multiplier. idealweight*12 is a rule of thumb. again, if you're a professional swimmer or are bed ridden, you'd have to adjust that up or down.

            with thyroid issues, you'd have to modify the multiplier down.

            essentially, you're trying to find the calories that your body (with hypothyroidism) would burn per day at the ideal weight.

            if you ate that many calories, you would drop weight until you hit that ideal weight (with the lowered metabolism).

            and that amount of calories will not be physiologically unreasonable. if metabolism is lower, the amount of calories required is lowered too and the lower amount of calories would be what your body needs.

            psychologically, it might be harder to adjust to the lowered requirement. that's a separate issue.

            my point is that no matter what, thermodynamics and the laws of physics apply here.

          • Tracy

            The premise of this article is that many other variables are affecting calories in/ calories out. Hypothyroidism is one of the peculiarities of the human body that alters this equation - the hormonal cycle of menstruation is another common culprit.

            The varieties of bacteria contained in the intestinal tract will also effect the equation and in both directions. Bacteria can also assist with the uptake of certain micro nutrients while other bacteria can leave the human body undernourished with the same amount of food. Hormone presence, levels and balance between various hormones also affect his equation, again the most simple example being that of menstruation.
            This article is peering past the very fringes of what we know, recognizing that the ways we have approached based around the "simple" explanation (put down the fork fatty) aren't working.


          • jin choung

            "Hypothyroidism is one of the peculiarities of the human body that alters this equation - the hormonal cycle of menstruation is another common culprit."

            technically, i would say this is incorrect. you're citing the distal causes when there's a proximal one that's the crux as it pertains to weight-


            hypothyroidism and hormones can alter (lower) metabolism such that you need less calories to be at any given weight.

            but there doesn't seem to be any other magical way that these conditions can cause mass to glom onto you from out of fat air.


            "This article is peering past the very fringes of what we know, recognizing that the ways we have approached based around the "simple" explanation (put down the fork fatty) aren't working."

            for me, this is like looking at the phases of the moon to try to explain why we have a drug problem in america.

            sure... maybe... just MAYBE... there is SOMETHING about the tidal influence of the moon that makes people turn to drugs... who knows... maybe. but is that where we should be looking? at remote relationships?

            "put down the fork fatty" may - perhaps - not explain EVERY situation. but statistically speaking, i would wager that it accounts for the vast majority.

            let's not start looking at how fat our lab rats are getting if the people are - in fact - stuffing down 2700 calories a day and then saying, "i don't know how it's happening doc...".

            thermodynamics applies. unless you're undergoing nuclear fusion, energy out and accumulated mass cannot be greater than energy in.

            consume what your ideal body weight body would burn in a day. you will hit that weight and will stay at that weight.

          • vsmom

            You are simply so ill knowledged about medical issues that it isnt funny. And you you spout off like you simply the MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE.

            I call troll.

          • edmeese

            You admit that thyroid disease affects your magic formula, but then come back to the same Bloombergian trope that it's physics, not medicine, that dictates weight gain.

            And you respond to every well-reasoned response with the same answer.

            I call "troll".

          • HypoHarriet

            Jin, when it comes to hypothyroidism don't even go there, you haven't got a clue what your are talking about. A hypo person can eat 600 calories a day and still not lose weight (I speak from personal and documented experience). Metabolism is complicated and highly individual. Yes, there are lardbuts out there who can't identify a cabbage, let alone cook one. But not all overweight people make bad choices, sometimes the laws of thermodynamics just don't apply.

          • vsmom

            So what are those of us with thyroid disease supposed to do? According to your ideals I would be eating 3 celery sticks a day.. and WHOOPEE that is AWESOME to you.

            I already eat very little processed sugars/any sugars and not a high calorie diet.

            You are simply full of shit.

          • maria

            Dear Jin, you're purposely leaving out other animals that are undergoing THE SAME process as humans. That's bad science. If you have other animals gaining weight,then you HAVE to consider other explanations to weight gain besides thermodynamics, specially as you count in LABORATORY animals that are fed a set amount of calories that has been shown to be just enough to keep their weight the same.

            Please stop making a fool of yourself and denying actual data out of prejudice for fat people. Animal studies ARE a good model for metabolism in humans, specially when testing an easy physics issue such as calorie intake x weight gain. I would love to see the same study on human subjects, however, for some reason scientists can't lock random people up in a cage and control what and when they eat or exercise. Hence the use of animal models.

          • abssi

            Ideal weight in what system?

            in kgs this would be 600 for me, in lbs about 1200-ish

          • jin choung

            don't know if it makes a difference but i do the calculation in pounds.

            so your ideal weight is 100 lbs? sounds light but it could be the right weight commensurate to height.

            then yeah, calories wise, you would be 1200 cals per day.

          • Missnancy

            Why do you think abssi should weigh 100 lbs. You have to be very short for 100 lbs to be the right weight. In the early 60s the supposed ideal size for a woman was 5'2", 105 lbs. I a little tiny short woman was supposed to weigh 5 lbs more than you decided. When I was in 7th grade I wanted to be taller, I was very short, when I got to 5'2" I weighed 90 lbs and when I got to 105 lbs I was 5'5", so never got the two together. When I was pregnant I could not hold any food down and lost weight, after my baby was born I weighed 95 lbs. I am 5'8"+ and you could see every single bone in body. Looking in the mirror looked like a skull and cross bones. I could see every bone in my face and the bones from my neck to shoulder were protruding so much looked like the crossed bones under the skull. When I got up to 100, still could see most of my bones. I can tell you for sure 100 lbs is too light for some 5'8".

          • edmeese

            Where does this magic "x12" come from? It's just false.

            I weigh 208 and my goal weight is 190. I have eaten 2200 calories per day for the last year. So that should bring me down to 183, right? However, I have gained 10 pounds during that time.

            Also, you don't even mention exercise. I exercise 6 hours per week. Half of this is "moderate" (hiking) and half is "extreme" (running 9-minute miles).

            But it would seem that according to your magical "x12" number, I shouldn't even bother exercising because I'm already shedding pounds.

            I know that I gained the 10 pounds when I was injured and had to limit my exercise. But in your world, exercise is irrelevant.

            You have oversimplified the entire problem to the point that you no longer make any sense. You should write a book. It would make a fortune!

          • tvander

            I'm 6'1" and wanting to be 199. I've dieted 4 times over the years but always end up overweight somehow. I am trying this out - it makes A LOT of rational sense, however I haven't found any empirical evidence to back it up

          • RyansTake

            the obtuse, who would blindly ignore evidence for dogma, comes in every ideology. sadly.

      • Teri

        The explosion of cheap-to-produce processed foods started in the 1950s. I assure you that my mother and grandmother had no trouble going to the store to buy cookies and potato chips and corn chips and brownie mixes and frozen pies.

        • riiver

          ...but those things were TREATS, something to be enjoyed in small amounts and not several times per day. Also, soda was a treat, not a beverage that was consumed throughout the day.

          • Teri

            Were you alive 50 years ago?
            I would agree with these comments if they said 70 years ago, i.e. 1940s, but 50 years ago, 1963, there was most definitely an abundance of snack foods PLUS Saturday morning cartoons that were created for the explicit purpose of selling things to parents through their children.

          • Charles Taylor

            So much mis-information here, I feel I have to respond to someone. Yeah, there were Saturday morning cartoons. And there are now multiple cartoon networks with far more powerful ads that run 24/7.

      • John

        Exactly, we understand what makes weight gain and weight loss. Anyone who has tracked their calories will have a pretty good understanding of the process. I don't think the author has ever done this

      • Leslie

        Raising hand--that's about my normal calorie intake. I maintain or gain on that; to lose weight, I have to get down to way under that. Which is very hard to maintain. And I exercise daily--a lot.
        You're welcome.

        • C. Manner

          yup- i have to be practically in ketosis to lose fat, cutting down to about 900 calories a day for 3 weeks straight, and that is WITH eliminating processed and wheat and corn products from my diet, strength building exercises and exercise. if i just "walk 90 minutes a day" and "cut 100 calories" it doesnt do shit, in fact seems to slow my metabolism down.

        • jin choung

          again, if you're already overweight, you don't *12 on that. then you WOULD maintain. you *12 on your ideal weight.

          assuming that's what you meant, then it has to mean that your body has a lower metabolism (it's using less calories per day to keep you alive than average). in which case, you have to adjust the multiplier until you find the number that works.

          the underlying point is that your ideal body weight would require calories to stay alive. if you consume only those calories, you will get to and stay at your ideal body weight.

          you just have to find out the personalized calorie count for your body at that ideal body weight.

        • Roger Fenner

          I'm willing to bet your daily exercise is cardio, right? Guess what? Your cardio is making you fat. If you want to carry low body fat, start lifting weights and stick to short high-intensity cardio. Oh yeah, and stop doing what the government tells you is healthy. I also have to say, weight is just a number. According to the BMI, I'm over weight, but my body fat is about 12%.

      • ruki444

        makes me wonder, who do you work for?

      • Exadyne

        It truly is more complex than that though. Say 200 lb (assuming your x12 times weight in lbs) person maintains proper weight at a normal mix of 2400 calories. If that person switched to 2000 calories of protein, and the 400 from another source, they would actually begin to starve. At least 400 calories of that protein would pass out of them, undigested.

      • Agrajag

        That's entirely silly. If I was eating goal-weight*12 calories, I'd be eating only about 2/3rds of the calories I burn, so offcourse I'd drop weight. Nobody (sane) denies the fact that drastic cutbacks in calories lead to weight-loss.

        But if the explosion in bad foods is the primary reason -- wouldn't it then be more sensible to do something about *that*, instead of insisting that since there's now more "bad" foods, people need to compensate by having more willpower ? That approach has been tried for several decades in a hundred countries, and demonstrably does not work.

        • jin choung

          "That's entirely silly. If I was eating goal-weight*12 calories, I'd be eating only about 2/3rds of the calories I burn"

          why is that silly if you are overweight now?

          OF COURSE you require more calories to maintain your current weight... if you are already overweight!

          the point is that if you consume THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF CALORIES (and yeah, that is ideal weight x 12), you will drop down to your ideal weight and then you will be burning 3/3rds of the calories you consume.

          • Agrajag

            I ain't. That was my point. I'm currently weighing what I want to weigh, stable in weight, and eating about goal-weight*18 calories a day.

            For many people, most I'd say, 12 kcal pro lbs and day, represents a significant calorie-deficit.

          • jin choung

            There's a bit of a dodge in that response. Is "what you want to weigh" the same as what you should weigh?

            Also, the *12 is average. If you have very high metabolism and/or do a lot of physical activity, your calorie requirements may indeed be higher.

          • Agrajag

            There's two responses to this. First, of course it's what I "should" weigh, it's my body, I hope you're not implying that I have a moral obligation to somebody else to conform to *their* wishes for what I do to myself ?

            Second, if you mean to ask if my weight is in line with what's assumed to be healthiest, then yes. I've got a BMI of slightly under 23, and a body-fat percentage around 13. I think both would be described by most qualified folks as pretty much ideal. I couldn't care less what "random strangers" believe.

            If 12 is average, like you're now claiming. Then certainly there's people on BOTH sides of the average ? I burn about 18 kcal for each pound I weigh, so there must also be other folks who burn *LESS* than 12 kcal - no ? That's how averages work, isn't it ?

            So if I'd drop weight at your recommended intake, those other folks would *gain* weight at your recommended intake, no ?

            I agree with you in principle. It's just that individual variation in activity, genetics and other factors is so large that a simplistic rule like "12 kcals pro lbs is right for everyone!" is wrongheaded. It may be a reasonable guideline for a average person, but some are going to require a lot MORE calories than that, and some are going to require LESS calories than that.

          • jin choung

            "I hope you're not implying that I have a moral obligation to somebody else to conform to *their* wishes for what I do to myself ?"

            that would be ridiculous. you're free to be as obese or skinny or whatever as you please. but since we're talking about the problem of obesity, it would be pointless for you to toss yourself out as an exception to the calorie rule of thumb if you were jabba the hutt right?

            "Then certainly there's people on BOTH sides of the average ?"

            sure. as i've said, there are people who have very low metabolisms, elderly, bed ridden, not ambulator, or are missing most of their limbs or something that would require less.

            it's a rule of thumb.

            but it's useful to express the principle that there is SOME reasonable amount of calories per day which is "right for you"... that is, will result in a body that is not obese - if not being obese is the goal as it is with most people talking about this.

            but a lot of people here seem to be saying that they exist in a mystical condition in which they're getting more energy out than they're putting in - that their bodies are physics defying engines... and if that's true, we should harvest their fat to power our cities and our energy problems will be solved.

            the point is:

            - the fact that you are ALIVE means you're burning calories every day.

            - if you consume that amount of calories, you will maintain your weight.

            - if you are overweight now, you have to calculate what calories your "ideal" body weight would need to survive.

            - if you eat that amount of calories per day, you will drop weight until you hit your ideal body weight.

            - if you have outlier issues like you run for a living or are extremely immobile, then adjustments will have to be made. of course.

            that's what i'm arguing and that's what a lot of people are... mind bogglingly... saying does not apply to them.

          • somebody

            Why such a strong emotional investment in this?

      • grat

        I'll raise my hand. My standard calorie count is less than my current weight * 12, and that's on a day when I'm not being careful. I work in an office, walk half a mile a day, and to lose weight reliably, have to eat as if I weight 90 pounds less than I do. Unfortunately, that's a starvation diet for me, and while I can lose weight, it comes back fast.

        • jin choung

          "My standard calorie count is less than my current weight * 12"

          that would be the WROOOOONG equation if you are already overweight!

          it is IDEAL WEIGHT * 12. so what is the weight you SHOULD BE AT * 12.

          current weight * 12 guarantees you STAY at your weight.

          if your ideal weight is 90 pounds less than you are, then that's not a "starvation diet" - that's the diet you should be on.

      • missnancy

        I feel it is a small amount of progress that you opened your mind enough to recognize that possibly people might eat right and still gain weight as you say later in response to Alba, you said "if they're eating 1500 calories a day, are six feet tall and still are gaining 50 lbs a week... THEN let's start looking for other factors."

        Only 50 lbs a week is a huge amount, it would probably be less, but even if it is one pound a week, that adds a lot of weight every year and becomes overweight and still is difficult to manage. Still causes to person to be incorrectly judged by others, including doctors. It may be true that the majority of people who overeat do overeat. It is more profitable for the business of medicine to treat everyone as if that patient is the same as the majority, so the one is not is mistreated. That same treatment applies for every disorder and ailment, so the patient for any ailment whose body works different in that area is mistreated and that can happen to any person sometime in their in their life for any ailment including you.

        I do know people who do not overeat and they are overweight. But actually most of the people I know who overeat a lot and do not exercise enough for the calories are thin, but that does not mean they are healthy. They assume as long as they are thin they are healthy. I only know one of those people well enough to know that her cholesterol is very high as well as blood sugar and kidney and liver problem indicators. She eats a lot of every food including fruits vegetables, meat, bread, ice cream, candy, cookies, cakes. She loves ice cream and she does limit herself to buying one two quart carton a week, which she eats straight of the carton until it is empty. The others to satisfies her desire for ice cream by eating frozen fruit bars with cream and sugar in them and eats about 10 of those a day. You really cannot tell how a person eats by looking at them.

      • RyansTake

        Dear god, sir, I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone like you, who would come to comment on an article without actually reading, or taking in, anything from that article. You used "evidence" to support your view that was directly refuted in it. Amazing! (In a bad way.)

      • PierrePinkFlamingo so many different ways. What you eat makes more of a difference to your weight then how much you eat. Because if you eat the right foods you simply won't eat too much. Eating sugar/carbs and wheat makes you want to eat more...hence you get fat. That coupled with the damage these novel new products do to your system and it isn't a surprise that we have all gotten fatter.

    • Larry171

      Oh, please, the election of Neo-Nazi Reagan in 1980 altered America in so many ways, and none of them were go. On another point the Kennedy administration began the effort to push schools on Phys. Ed., which was due to the increase in weight of US kids, though yes obesity was still rare then but the trending toward it was already in effect. Course that coincided with the explosion of fast food places and their prepackaged junk.

  • ldmalone

    Let's say lab animals have lived in artificial environments for generations, so what about zoo animals? They're sort of halfway between labs and nature, so what do their numbers look like? But neither would necessarily show that one way or another, everyone's eating. And it's coming from somewhere. If it's true the entire world, or large parts of it are changing, what's causing it? Industrialized food sources? Water treatment? Or are all species evolving to compensate for some subtle change that's already happened or is coming?

    • George Corley

      If they're evolving to compensate for something, it will necessarily have already happened. Mutations are not purposeful, and natural selection only responds to the existing environment, not future environments.

      But the zoo animals idea is interesting. The article did mention pets and feral city animals having weight increases. I think the focus on lab animals was mainly to weed out differences in activity level and diet -- which is something that will have changed significantly in zoo animals as zoo practices changed. Of course, I'd think that zoo animals probably get more exercise than they used to, with bigger pens and attempts to create an environment that doesn't bore them to death.

  • AQ

    In before the fatbashers sho--nevermind.

  • Tim Miller

    Really nicely written article. And much food for thought in it. The animal stuff is particularly intriguing. But the human part - I really have to wonder based on my experience and that of my friends and family.

    I was a fat kid (1950s and 60s) and I had a fat dad, but my mom was slim. Why dad was fat and mom was thin was obvious - he ate every snack food made by food corporations in addition to rich meals with lots of meat, whereas mom was determined to stay thin and always watched what she ate. I followed dad's pattern. My brother and sisters followed mom's pattern and stayed thin.

    When I went to college, I slimmed way down - no free snack food sitting around, no mom's cooking waiting for me 3 meals a day with snacks in between. Through adulthood I gradually gained some weight back till 5 years ago I was about 30 pounds overweight. I decided I wasn't going to follow in dad's footsteps, which had led him to a sudden and fatal heart attack at 70. So I started following the ideas of Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Joel Furhman, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Carl Esselstyne - no animal foods, no snack foods, no processed carbs. Not a diet because diets are temporary. A new permanent way of eating. Plus I decided to exercise at least one hour every day, and I mean exercise hard. The 30 extra pounds came off and they have stayed off. But even now, if I start straying and eating snack foods, or drinking more than a tiny bit of alcohol every day, I start gaining and have to cut back. I simply cannot eat snack foods and empty carbs, nor drink as much alcohol as I wish I could. I eat a few bites of cake maybe 2 or 3 times a year. I drink more than I should again 3 or 4 times a year. Otherwise, I have to stick to a low fat vegan diet of whole foods all the rest of the time or I start losing control of my weight. But if I do stick to the plan, I have no trouble keeping the weight off.

    Most of my friends eat like my dad did. They are all fat. A few of my friends eat like I do. They are trim. My brother is very careful (though he does eat meat - he's sort of into the paleo thing) and exercises hard and often, and he is still trim. My sisters are both extremely careful in what they eat and they are trim.

    Here's what it comes down to: you can't indulge yourself. You have to be hard on yourself. You have to be self-disciplined. You have to mistrust everything that comes from a big food corporation except minimally processed or unprocessed whole foods. You have to move a lot. You have to live like our ancestors did back when most of them were trim - walk instead of ride, work in the fields (your yard, e.g. don't use riding mowers). Food is for nourishment, not extreme pleasure. Advertising tells us to indulge, and food companies make their products as addicting as possible (not to mention that they feed animals antibiotics and growth hormones some of which end up causing our bodies to grow). Several generations ago, corporations didn't have such control and labor saving devices hadn't eliminated effort from almost every area of life. There weren't boob tubes and computers that people sat in front of all day long. And not too long before that, people experienced famines from time to time (e.g. Ireland in the mid-1800s). Nothing like a famine to keep you super trim!

    All of this accounts for why current generations are so much fatter. It didn't take such self-control 60 years ago but now it does. The only way to stay slim now is to resist the system. And that means self-denial big time. Self-denial that lasts a lifetime and almost never lets up.

    Sad but true. It's hard but it is possible. The first step is to realize you either practice what seems like extreme self-control to most people or you get fat.

    • Janipurr

      Sounds incredibly depressing to me. I think I would much rather be fat and die young but happy than deprive myself my entire life and live a long time. I guess to each his own.

      • Lolnope

        Dying young has probably always been a reasonable alternative to those in no danger of dying soon. A few months ago I had an "is it cancer?" test hanging over my head--a very nasty kind of cancer, at that--and faced for the first time the real prospect of dying before age 35. It was easily the most terrifying experience I've ever had.

        • Janipurr

          Yes, but Tim describes his father dying at 70, as if that is too young or prematurely. Considering that when social security was put in place in the early 1900s, the average life expectancy was 68 (and people weren't generally obese then), I would say 70 isn't exactly premature--though some people may consider it to be.

          35 is certainly pretty young--but then dying of cancer is entirely different than dying of complications from obesity, isn't it?

          • JoshuaTree

            Tim, while respecting your sense of loss, I question the need to go much past 70. What are we contributing at 80 - 90? We become the ultimate consumer. We rely on everyone else for the extension of our life and each year of extension is globally expensive. What is the point of extending life only to consume our diminishing resources like a lawn mower set too low? There is an abundance of opinion in this chain and it is all theory. We are all heading for the great mystery, why would we wish to curtail small joys so that we can watch more television, longer, in ease and comfort?

      • Chris Mo

        But when I live "cleanly" I feel so much better. And food tastes so much better. It is worth the discipline.

        • doggydork

          But that's YOUR experience. Not everyone is the same, so not all experiences will be the same.

          I'm not sick because of my weight. My cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure are all on the low side of normal. My asthma is gone. I live with chronic pain from a spinal cord injury and it makes exercising impossible. I'm lucky to still walk, let alone go kayaking and enjoy other sports.

          I've tried changing how I eat, I run a calorie deficit (less calories than charts say I need to maintain my weight) of -1200 calories a day. I'm either still gaining weight or hovering at the same number.

          How? The medications I take to keep walking. The constant 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off of steroids, every month, every year for the last 22 years. No diet change will end that.

          I can be obese and walk, or trim and in a wheelchair.

          Guess which one I picked?

          • Joni B.

            Bravo! I consume roughly 400 calories a day and I am obese. I had gastric bypass surgery and am still obese. Some days I eat up to 900 calories a day, but rarely.

            I see the farmers injecting hormones into cows, chickens, pigs to make them fatter for the market. Those hormones are in the meat we eat and we get fatter.

            There are many medical reasons for obesity and it's not always a "garbage in/garbage out" method. Luckily, I'm of the age that I don't give a flip what someone thinks about me and I eat for my health, not for someone's viewing pleasure.

          • djc263

            ::Facepalm:: A hormone is the organic growth signal. All multicellular living things have them. The farmers might add more on top but if your cells are dividing in response to cow hormone, go talk to your mom about how she spent her nights. In the meantime, try exercise. Or don't eat multicellular lifeforms.

          • SkyeH

            No multicellular lifeforms?? So.... an amoeba diet? I am thinking that wasn't quite what you meant! lol

          • Parker

            And once you filet the amoeba, there's only enough for a very small sandwich!

          • Jeff

            You will never loose weight eating that amount of calories as you are putting your body into starvation mode. Your body is storing everything as fat just to maintain itself.

          • anan

            So eating very few calories per day will make you gain enormous amounts of weight because you will be in "starvation mode" (while you eat no less.) So, basically your theory is insane-O!

          • Agrajag

            That's bullshit. "starvation mode" means that the body reduces metabolism to preserve energy, when energy-intake is very low over some time. That much is right.

            But it's not magic. And it's just a reduction. So if you cut 1000 kcals/day from your diet, your body may go into energy-preservation mode, you'll feel tired, sluggish and unconcentrated, and your metabolism will slow. The body may this way manage to save a few hundred kcals/day.

            In the end, you do drop weight, but more slowly than expected. You cut 1000 kcals, but the body responded by saving energy, it now uses 300 kcals less, so you're only short 700, instead of 1000.

          • iisfjsff

            If you're only eating 400 calories a day you're starving yourself, which may be why your not losing weight (in addition to other factors).

          • C. Manner

            wait, i thought you and everyone else here is saying "eat less calories and better quality calories and you will lose weight, it is simple physics" so apparently it is NOT simple physics, because if you eat too few calories your body will choose to do something different with the high quality, low quantity calories. so here is the thing.

          • Agrajag

            Starvation-response reduces your metabolic rate, but not THAT much. Sure, metabolism can be reduced by 20%, perhaps even 30%. But 400 kcals is less than 1/4th the energy an obese person needs to maintain weight.

            In short, Joni B. is either lying, or he's miscounting his actual calorie-intake SEVERLY.

          • Agrajag

            That's basically nonbelievable. We do know a few concentration-camp survivors who trough a near-miracle survived several months on 400-600 kcals a day, but they certainly did not do so obese.

            In short: fantastic claims requires strong evidence. You've presented none of that, only a claim.

          • jin choung

            charts can be wrong. what's your ideal weight? multiply that number by 12. that equals the amount of calories you need to consume a day to get to that weight and stay there.

            the drugs aren't the issue.

            you may have to fine tune your number of calories to get to your target weight (not everyone's resting metabolism is the same and it goes down with age) but there IS a calorie number at which you will hit and stay at your desired weight.

            and that's another thing, for some reason, people feel that despite age and life circumstances, they can just continue to eat what they always did but lament at gaining weight.

            you have RECALIBRATE how you eat to allow for time and circumstance. there is no ONE, STATIC, ETERNAL answer that will always be true.

            but then, it's just a matter of tweaking until things level out.

          • anan

            Right because everyone knows that eating less food makes your body go into starvation mode and then you end up an obese cow eating a half a head of lettuce per day. You're crazy, and your non-scientific, highly discriminatory comments can fly off of a cliff.

          • jin choung

            again, it's simple physics. NO MATTER whether your body is in starvation mode or not, if you eat just enough to keep the machinery of your body running, you CANNOT store fat. there is not enough STUFF to go around!

            again, it's not fucking MAGIC!

            if you only eat enough to keep the machinery of your body running, your body can:

            1. keep the machinery running and keep you alive


            2. let you die so it can prioritize storing the calories as fat.


            eat that - day after day. you WILL get to your ideal weight!


          • C. Manner

            if i followed your formula, i would be adding 500 calories to my normal satiation point diet. however i am overweight. this is BS.

          • john

            What is your weight? Height? If you have a spinal cord injury are you active? Steroids do not make you magically gain weight, your probably just reading the chart wrong

          • k_milt

            I experienced the same thing with psychiatric medication. By nature I'm very, very tiny (my largest, even after two kids, was a size 4), and I always have been since childhood. When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and starting on what would become an eight year cycle of rotating medications that caused weight gain no matter what I did - which for a lifelong tiny lady was totally new territory. At one point I was exercising an hour and a half a day and eating about 500 calories a day, almost entirely produce, and still gaining. Very defeating. One medication switch later and I dropped 25 pounds in three weeks, kept losing and finally look like myself again. It was a new experience for me, for sure. I should mention though, my regular eating habits don't involve more than 1500 calories and about a half an hour of exercise a day. No dessert, no junk food, no white flour, no soft drinks, no fast food, no fruit juice, no processed food, no cheese, at least 8-10 cups of water a day and various other things. I'm not a size 2 by accident. But add that one medication to those habits - even when I got more and more strict with myself - and all bets were off. Definitely a new view on things for me.

          • anonymous

            If you're able to walk and exert your self for 20 to 30 minutes you're able to exercise. At the very least cardio. It sounds like you're just making excuses.

      • Jenny

        Of the people I know who were overweight and died young, they didn't seem happy to me. Not while the last 2 decades of their lives they were robbed of energy, got knee pains, arthritis and crumbling spines and then progressed to diabetes and cancer. That's a long time to be putting a brave face on things...

        • Janipurr

          It's a trade off, for sure. However, Tim is describing a situation that works *for him*. Not only would his diet not necessarily work for other individuals, the kind of diet he describes would not make life worth living for me. If my choice was to be miserable for every single day of my (longer) life, or be fat, I'll take fat.

      • Tim Miller

        There is definitely an adjustment period, but after anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months of "clean" living as Chris Mo describes it, a new more careful way of eating gives a great deal of pleasure. Maybe not the kind of "rush" that high-fat and/or high-sugar and/or high-salt morsels deliver, but definite and sustained pleasure. Coupled with the satisfaction of knowing you are doing something wonderful for your future self.

        If only the choice were as simple as 1) have extreme pleasure now and die a little earlier; or 2) have less pleasure now but live longer (wishing you could die because of a boring diet). But it isn't like that. The real choice is this: 1) have extreme pleasure now and gradually decline so the last 2 or 3 decades of life are an increasing torment of disability and extreme medical intervention; or 2) have a little less pleasure now, though still a huge amount of pleasure, and last many decades without disability and extreme medical intervention, then decline very quickly at an advanced age and die quickly, knowing you did the best for yourself by exerting some self-control.

        Obviously there's no guarantees for any individual. A few people can smoke massively, drink themselves silly, and eat like there's no tomorrow and live to 100 without problems while a few people are very careful and die young or get horrible conditions that disable them for decades. But on the average you are doing yourself a huge favor by living as cleanly as possible while still enjoying yourself.

        One big problem is what we think of as normal. Now normal means eating foods that would have given people in middle ages orgasms to just have one bite. Huge amounts of salt, sugar, and fat in everything processed. So much salt, sugar, and fat in just about everything that you can barely taste the beautiful flavors of the minuscule amounts of real food in the food-like products most of us consume.

        We evolved over 10s or 100s of thousands of years where normal eating meant gathering greens and tubers and hunting lean muscular animals that had to fight for their existence every moment. We've had enough time to have evolved to handle what the 10,000 year old agricultural revolution delivered - whole grains, legumes, and still fairly lean animals. But not nearly enough time to evolve to handle what the food industry has done since 1950 - process everything nutritional to practically nothing (except extreme flavor) and fatten animals up so their meat resembles nothing like what our ancestors ate. If you want subject yourself to the forces of natural selection, go ahead. But I think I'll try to stick with what my body truly needs.

        Sure, our brain tells us to gorge on bad stuff because it doesn't realize a famine isn't right around the corner. During the millennia while we evolved to our current form famines were ALWAYS right around the corner. And if a famine comes now, those who struggle with obesity have the metabolisms that will thrive in such an environment. It's only our access to cheap piles of food that makes people obese now - that and not eating tons of fiber instead of what the food industry so longs to sell us so they can profit massively at our expense.

        There definitely are people who eat 500 calories a day and still lose no weight. I have a good friend like that. One of my sisters is like that. And her problem got solved by eating only in a 4 hour window every day and eating no animal foods and no added fat - just whole foods with lots of fiber. My other friend can't do that - her vagus nerve is damaged and she can't eat fiber. I'm not sure what the solution is for her, other than extreme deprivation for life which is what she does. She is amazing but it's no picnic, that's for sure.

        Beyond doing your future self a favor, there are other really good reasons to eat carefully. Animal foods these days mostly come from factory farms where animals are tortured without a break for all their short lives (except cows who get to graze for part of their lives). If you want to eliminate a lot of suffering in this world, give up animal foods. That's the single biggest thing an individual can do to reduce suffering. There's also the environment to consider. Animal agriculture is enormously costly and polluting. Again, the single biggest thing you can do to pollute less is to stop eating animal foods.

        Where's the downside? You benefit yourself, other sentient beings, and the earth and what do you really give up in the long run? A little bit of pleasure. You still get a huge amount of pleasure and satisfaction from eating well prepared whole foods. So what you lose is basically nothing in the end. Except you have to control yourself in a world of cheap food-like substances that are massively pushed through relentless advertising. Like I said earlier, resist the system.

        • Janipurr

          Actually, modern agriculture is what we haven't really had time to adjust to. We used to be subsistence hunters--eating meat primarily, along with what we could forage while we followed the food animals. The concentrated energy from meat is what allowed us to develop large brains and gave us the ability to be such excellently adapted long distance runners. There is no way you are going to convince me that we aren't evolved to eat meat.

          And I said it sounds depressing, because the kind of diet you describe sounds like torture to me. I've tried low fat, mostly vegetable diets and the result is that I am always hungry, not to mention extremely bored. After you have been hungry 100% of the time for several weeks, even the most strong willed person has to admit defeat. I've tracked my calories--I mostly cook at home and usually eat between 1600 and 2000 calories a day--not a large amount. You can be as self righteous as you like, but you can't escape the fact that your experience simply is an example N=1. It does not apply to everyone--or even a large number of people.

          • Tim Miller

            If you are the weight you want to be, and enjoy your eating, and are in good health, that's great. If it's not broken don't fix it. I'm not trying to tell you how to conduct your life.

            If anyone who struggles really hard with weight issues is reading this, I'm suggesting you give the approach I'm describing a try. It is definitely not a matter of N = 1 as Janipurr claims. If you go to Dr. John McDougall's website or Dr. Joel Fuhrman's, you'll find hundreds of testimonials of people who have lost hundreds of pounds and have kept them off for years, and feel better than they ever did before with more energy than they ever thought possible. If you read the books of Dr. Dean Ornish and T. Colin Campbell and Carl Esselstyne and Neal Barnard, and of course McDougall and Fuhrman as well, you'll see how in peer reviewed studies, a whole foods plant-based diet (WFPBD) has reversed severe heart disease and diabetes and many other conditions.

            The paleo diet is interesting, but there are no studies showing it can reverse arterial blockages. Maybe someday that will be put to the test, but so far, the WFPBD is the only dietary approach proven to reverse deadly conditions. And prevent them too, of course.

            The books of the authors mentioned above also cast severe doubts on the assertion that early humans ate tons of meat. Think about it. If you want to eat a plant, it can't run away. If you want to eat an animal, it tries desperately to escape. Which is going to be easier to get? Early humans likely ate mostly plants and a little meat, and on rare occasions, a lot of meat.

            Not enough time to have evolved to handle what the agricultural revolution has delivered? Strange then that the whole food products of the agricultural revolution have been shown in studies to reverse deadly diseases. And that hundreds if not thousands of people eat a WFPBD and lose huge amounts of weight and feel really great. If we hadn't adapted to those foods, none of this would be the case.

            Does such a diet have to be boring? If you read those testimonials I mentioned above, you'll see that once people get used to that eating style, they love it and would never go back. Janipurr, if you ate too many veggies and not enough whole grains and legumes, well many people feel hungry doing that. Not everyone, but most people find grains and legumes more satisfying than mostly veggies (though I personally crave veggies). Dr. McDougall emphasizes this concept in his book "The Starch Solution". And if the issue is not enough fat, which some people really miss, adding nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados - really high quality fats, in other words - is an option Dr. Fuhrman recommends.

          • Kiki-TO

            Here is my problem with what you describe...I am a woman in my mid-30s and am what doctor's consider obese. Now one would look at me and think I must eat a diet rampant of "empty" calories such as fast food, snack foods, etc... Here is the thing - I don't.

            My daily diet looks something like this:

            • I eat more then the recommended amount of vegetables every day.

            • I eat little meat and when I do it is lean meats or fish (occasionally I will eat pork or a steak but not regularly)

            • I do not eat processed grains and in fact the only grains I consume are oatmeal and quinoa.

            • I get most of my carbs from fruit, vegetables and legumes

            • I only use Coconut and Olive Oil, and occasionally small quantities of butter

            • 90% of my meals are cooked by me

            • I do not drink juice or soft drinks (except on rare occasions), drink only 1 cup of coffee a day and spend the rest of my day drinking water and decaf tea

            • I eat between 1800-2200 calories/day

            • I walk every day, do yoga several times a week and swim.

            Sounds great, right? It is, except for the fact that despite all of these efforts, I am unable to lose a single pound. In fact, if I even deviate slightly from any of this, I will actually gain weight. Part of this is due to a condition I have called Poly-cystic Ovarian Sydrome, but even the doctor's say that there is to be something more going on. So you tell me, given your model is this still a result of my poor diet and laziness?

          • Bonnie

            Did they put you on metformin? It's a good one for insulin resistance. My friend with the same problem was put on it and lost weight, she's still obese, but much less so. Small steps also are a success. Also, try cutting off salt - it causes to store too much water, and excess water is a pain in PCO. I'm not a dietetician, so I won't recommend you diets, it should be done by a professional.

          • Tim Miller

            Look, I'm not saying anything about good and bad or virtuous versus lazy. I don't think being heavy is bad. I don't think heavy people are less good than lean people. I don't think rigid self-control is better than a relaxed policy of taking pleasure in the good things of life.

            I'm just saying that I want to be lean, not heavy, and mainly because I have been convinced that being lean is healthier for me in the long run (though I'm sure vanity comes into it as well, and vanity is something I acknowledge to be generally bad). And I admit that I could be wrong. I am certain of very little in this life. But the science, such as it is, certainly seems to point to increased health benefits in being leaner.

            I advocate self-control not because it's morally better than relaxed pleasure-seeking but because science says it's very difficult to be lean when massive quantities of incredibly good tasting food and food like substances surround us everywhere and are easily affordable for most first world people.

            I'm not saying people in general, or you in particular, should be lean. I am saying that if you want to be lean - purely your decision - there are things you can try. You have tried a lot of things already. But there are more things you can try, and I'll list them in a minute. But first, I know, and have said already, that some people struggle much more than others. The people who struggle most are the ones who would be super successful if we lived in conditions like those we evolved in, where food was scarce and hard to come by and famines always waited just around the corner.

            To a lesser extent than you, it sounds like, I am a person who struggles too. In order to go from a BMI of 27 to my current BMI of 21, I had to adopt a low fat whole foods diet of exclusively plants. But even that was not enough. I had to fast completely for one or two days a week. And I had to restrict my eating hours to 5 a day (intermittent fasting). To maintain my BMI of 21, I still have to fast usually 1 day a week and maintain my 5 hour eating window, and of course maintain the plant foods only approach. And exercise hard at least one hour every day without exception, usually more than one hour. I do allow myself small quantities of nuts and seeds now, again, because I think the science indicates they are health-promoting when not eaten in excess. This is all a lot of trouble and requires a lot of self-discipline. I admit that it could indicate obsession. I'm not saying it's better than being more relaxed and heavier. But it is the path I've chosen because I believe it will lead to better health. Not because it's inherently virtuous or praiseworthy.

            Here are some additional things you can try if you want to be leaner. If you don't, ignore these:

            Fast one or two days a week.

            Eat only in a 4 or 5 hour window on the days when you don't fast entirely. (Just for the record, I have found hunger is not an issue after you get used to this - even on total fast days - and that vigorous exercise is no problem even in a fasted state. But check with your doctor first, of course).

            Dr. McDougall would tell you this about olive oil and coconut oil: eliminate them entirely. They are not whole foods for one thing. Olives and complete coconut would be better options if you must have them. Nuts and seeds would be a better way to get fat (raw, unsalted, of course). But until you are at the BMI you want to be at, cut out all added fat. And animal products of any kind (take vitamin B-12 if you cut the animal foods). McDougall would say that starches (meaning whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes - not refined grains, not even whole grain flour) will satisfy you once you get used to his approach.

            And this would really be great if you want to spend the money on it: go to a McDougall 10-day program. You will see how to make his approach tasty and satisfying because all your food is supplied, plus you will get health assessments and advice from doctors who specialize in using nutrition to get people healthy and lean, plus you will take in many lectures that will lay out the science very clearly and convincingly. Dr. Fuhrman has similar retreats, and True North in California has a program that is even more extreme that would really jump start your progress. Also, the Rice Diet people in North Carolina.

            So once again, you can do more than you have tried so far. But what you've already done shows great self-control. And self-control is good if it serves you, but I'm not saying anyone is a bad person who chooses to go with pleasure instead. It just depends on what you want.

          • Ciarrai

            Hi Tim,
            I've also been trying to do a WFPBD. I have been trying on and off for the about 6 months, and recently started reading 'Whole' by Dr T Colin Campbell. I'm planning to read 'The China Study' next. I've been vegetarian for 13 1/2 yrs, and vegan for the last 6 1/2 of those, but I am really struggling with sticking to the whole foods diet. Any suggestions for making those first few weeks a little easier?

          • Tim Miller

            Hi Ciarrai,

            I just finished reading "Whole" today. Great book. But not much help in terms of daily mechanics.

            Have you tried "The Starch Solution" by Dr. John McDougall? It presents the science and some success stories, but it also contains recipes that have been tried on lots of people, whereas "Whole" has no recipes. McDougall's main thing is that most people find starch - his sort of in-your-face name for complex carbs (in-your-face to the low carb people) - more satisfying than a huge emphasis on vegetables, and his recipes reflect that. I do find he's right, although I like lots of veggies and lots of fruit (I may eat too much fruit, I sometimes worry).

            For me, quinoa is absolutely delicious. So if I eat a lot of quinoa, I feel very happy and satisfied. Of course I eat it with some legumes and veggies too. Brown rice and oat groats cooked like you would cook brown rice or quinoa are also very yummy to me (I usually combine all 3 grains before cooking). So if you could find one or more grains you really like, and eat it/them with beans and veggies, and really fill up on that, and then end with several fruits, that might satisfy you.

            Lots of people really crave potatoes. They have gotten a bad rap because the low carb people really despise their very concept, but as McDougall points out, they have a lot of nutrients and most people find them very satisfying. The trick is finding tasty ways of preparing them that don't use butter or oil. I love them cooked with cabbage and onions (the Irish in me). Or baked then smothered with salsa and beans. "The Starch Solution" contains lots of potato recipes.

            One of the best ways to really get going is to go to one of McDougall's 10-day programs where you see all kinds of ways to prepare whole foods. Or Dr. Joel Fuhrman's similar retreats. But they are kind of pricey.

            Don't keep junk foods around your home. It's so hard to resist their temptation. That is something I've struggled with for years as my partner stocks the pantry with tons of junk food and I can't convince him to switch to whole foods. But in the last year or so I've gotten so I can resist them almost all the time. And I do that by being sure to fill up on good stuff first so there just isn't room.

            And that's another thing. You get to eat a lot of volume when you stick to whole foods because they are inherently nutrient dense but not calorie dense. So feel free to eat as much as you want to the point where you're just not hungry at all.

            I find stevia really yummy. Added to coffee in the mornings, decaf in the afternoons, and hibiscus tea (zinger teas) in the evening really makes me feel like my sweet tooth is satisfied. Fruit really helps with that too.

          • dorcssa

            This is BS, at least for me. I've lost weight with a little IF and calorie counting (normal would be 1600/day for me, and I only reduced it by 2-300), and of course excersise. Now I am at BMI 22, and have aprox. 17% body fat (for a woman, that's in the sporty range).

            I ate sweets even during my diet, and I looove dairy. I eat some chocolate or some sweet bakery products almost every day. I eat lots of fuits and veggies, but fish and meat also many times a week. Bread, potato, rice not a problem. I even eat chips once in a while, and of course many ice cream during summer. :) And no, I haven't started gaining weight, I keep it since april.

            Ok, I'm a biker, but I had a back condition and needed to start physicotherapy, so I only bike 20km a day and swim twice a week beside my everyday one hour physicotehrapy. And no, that's not normal for me. Before my little accident, I biked at least 46km a day (yes, in winter too), and usually went on a 100+ bike tour in the weekend, and went running at least twice a week. I'm hoping to get back to that lifestyle in half a year. So you see, I think excersice is the key.

          • Agrajag

            My sympathies ! You're spot on. People are different. While many of your habits are healthy ones, and to be recommended for staying healthy, what matters for *weight* is almost entirely about calories and activity-levels.

            Unfortunately, eating 2000 kcal/day on average, yet staying overweight while moderately active is possible. Not for most people, but for some people.

            Much as it sucks, the only two ways (short of surgery or metabolism-changing drugs) of reducing the weight is reducing intake, or increasing activity-levels.

          • dssadad

            Don't forget G6PD Deficient people who can't eat beans (soy is in everything processed) and cannot eat vegetarian diet. Lot of other people either, unless they want to get sick and die.

          • Sarah

            You should look into the keto diet. You naturally end up eating lower calorie amounts because it's a high fat, low carb diet. You eat higher fat (versus low fat because guess what - your brain LOVES fat and needs it), and lower carb (because even "healthy" whole wheat bread metabolizes as sugar, and basically at 300g a day recommendation, that's like shooting a CUP AND A HALF of sugar into your body, and your body is normally at a 1 tsp of blood sugar. sooooo then your body produces insulin, and turns the sugar into fat for storage, and you gain weight.)

            Basically, I've lost weight and I'm sitting here eating cauliflower fried in bacon fat, eggs, and hot dogs with sour cream and cheese, and this is not only super filling, tasty, but makes you healthier! Hopefully (if you want to lose weight) - you haven't given up and resigned your life to feeling crappy on carbs. Check out to really get the info (read the FAQs) if you want to know more - like I want to shake everyone who recommends the high carb-low fat diet and say "nooo that's why we're fat and have SO much mental shit!!! opposite, OPPOSITE!"

          • Bonnie

            Actually, keto diet promotes diabetes even more than eating all carbs.

          • Bernt

            Where's the evidence for that? Sarah's got it exactly right. If you're concerned about ketosis you should read the evidence outlined by Dr. Peter Attia in his blog The Eating Academy. The high fat (preferably saturated) and low carb/sugar diet is the healthiest lifestyle choice one can make.

      • AnathemaT

        I feel so much happier when I get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day and don't drink alcohol or eat crap. So as you say--to each his own. But I don't feel deprived, I feel healthy and happy. I used to weigh about 40 lbs more, ate a lot more pizza, and drank a lot more booze. This wasn't a life of delicious indulgence, but one where I got sick a lot more and was too tired to do the things I love.

      • Decade

        Well, I was raised by a weirdo, so I grew up thinking that candy and cookies and soda are not food. Like, I go into a normal supermarket, and half of the aisles do not have any food at all, and the remaining aisles have very few food items. It makes grocery shopping so efficient. I go to the store to buy food, and most of the stuff is not food, so I don't buy it.

        Now that I'm older, I enjoy the occasional candy bar, but I still don't buy any. I get the unhealthy snack items from social events. With the obesity epidemic all around us, I don't see a good reason to change my buying habits.

    • clear head

      Damn fine article. Brave common sense.

    • agdouglas

      Did you not read the article?

    • tonysolo

      "So I started following the ideas of Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Joel Furhman, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Carl Esselstyne - no animal foods, no snack foods, no processed carbs. Not a diet because diets are temporary."

      This sounds dreadful.

      • Tim Miller

        It's not. It takes a period of adjustment, and then whole foods deliver tremendous pleasure. It's like addiction. Say you enjoy a 5 ounce glass of wine every day. Great flavor, perhaps even some health benefits. Then someone introduces you to cocaine. What a rush - way better than wine. Then you try heroine. Bye bye cocaine. Now you really know how to savor life, and a little glass of wine seems pathetic. Once your life comes unraveled by addiction, you decide to give up the hard drugs. It takes work. There's an adjustment period. But after you weather it, the little glass of wine tastes great again.

        The food industry tries their best to lard their food like substances with exactly the right degrees of salt, sugar, and fat to addict people to their products. For many such products, irresistibility, not nutrition, is the goal. (Some food companies do offer healthy options, obviously - like companies that sell unadulterated vegetables and whole grains and beans, and even meats from animals fed their natural diets and not tortured for their whole lives). Sure, compared to these fantastic tasting food like substances, a whole foods plant-based diet seems bland. But once you escape the addiction to these things, whole foods are incredibly delicious and you feel so much more vital and glow with health and energy.

        Definitely worth it.

        • KrishnaPineapple

          I have been trying to read your posts and these various conversations, but there is something about a bunch of people discussing what they eat and what they don't eat that makes me incredibly bored.

    • OgbeDi

      This is correct. Anyone who has done genealogical research can testify to the dramatic change in body size. Up until the 1950s food was scarce; people were (for the most part) poor, and part of poverty at that time was the unavailability of food. Moreover, food was strictly seasonal - if you wanted zucchini in the dead of winter, too bad; there were no giant supermarkets stocked with produce year-round. It wasn't that they didnt WANT to eat more, so willpower never entered into it - there was simply little food to be eaten. That, combined with the heavy labor, was enough to keep people permanently close to famine-state.

  • Michael Hanlon

    Excellent piece. Obesity is probably more complex than we have been told the last few decades. The sudden surge in the US from 1980 is especially puzzling; nothing special happened to either diet or exercise around then - large numbers of people just started getting huge for no adequately explored reason. I am a bit dubious about the BPA explanation, though viruses are convincing. So is HFCS though it isn't used everywhere that obesity has become a problem. Finally, the great tide of fat seems to be going out, at least in some places. The reasons for this are as interesting as those for the obesity crisis in the first place.

    • EP

      "nothing special happened to either diet or exercise around then [1980s]"?


      Fast food proliferation, more artificial substances in food, processed food, deep fried everything, television culture, more desk jobs, the death of the independent farm, and, relevant for this particular discussion, the rise of the victimization of everything and the externalizing of responsibility.

      • Michael Hanlon

        Fast food was around before 1980. Americans ate more meat and fat before 1980 than they did afterwards. No junk/processed food in the 1970s? Are you kidding? Agribusiness was up and running by 1965, as was a sedentary desk-job culture. What changed? Maybe more sugar? Maybe a virus? We don't know

        • Dthoris

          Have you seen that ad from the 1970s ad about eating sugar to help you lose weight? Classic!

        • Kitwench

          Studies looking at intake of fast food show a huge frequency increase in the late 80's, too.

          The average family eating out once or twice a month in the 70's and 80's would not see near the impact that today's average family does - 4 or 5 meals a WEEK.
          That's a rather significant change.

      • agdouglas

        ...and Monsanto spread their products worldwide.

      • Bianca Bradley

        Umm, hate to tell you, there was a lot of fast foods back in the 80's. T.V dinners, and host of other unhealthy food. It was about convenience back then.

        Fast food is not a modern phenomena.

        • Gloria Ponytail

          Did someone just say the 80s wasn't modern time? *eyeball bulge*

          • Bianca Bradley

            If the 40's weren't modern time, to the people in the 80's, why would the 80's be modern, to people after 2010? The 80's are 4 decades ago.

            But no I didn't say the 80's were not modern. I said fast food was not a modern phenomena. T.V dinners, and diners, and car hops can be traced back to before the 50's.

    • Kiran Wagle

      Something special did in fact happen to diet around 1980: George McGovern and Ancel Keys, among others, decided to push the idea that fat, especially saturated fat, was harmful, and people responded by eating more "healthy whole grains" which turned out not to be so healthy. The politics behind this is well-documented in Gary Taubes' books.

    • SK

      subsidized corn syrup

    • Jeff Blanks

      Remember, 1980 is about the time the "exercise craze" started. I'd had the impression that the sudden surge came after the '80s, what with super-sized fries and at the same time the end of the exercise craze, part of which I've always chalked up to the intentional drabification of exercise wear after the '80s. If you're gonna sweat, you might as well have fun doing it, and after the '80s exercise was sold more as penance or proof of serious-mindedness after the supposed frivolity of the '80s. Of course, they sold it that way in the '80s WRT the '70s, too, but they ramped up the drabitude in the '90s.

  • Ed

    GMO & Glyphosate are the culprits. Monsanto even knows the truth is coming out, it's why the pre-empted mass lawsuits by passing the "Monsanto Protection Act". Time to wake up folks.

  • Crystal Bailey

    Please stop using the term "thermodynamics" in this context--it was incorrect when Bloomberg said it, and it's incorrect when you say it. What he was trying to say is that it's a chemical, biological process. Thermodynamics refers to a very fundamental understanding of how particles behave in ensembles in under the influences of temperature, pressure, concentration, etc. The scientific mechanism behind weight gain in mammals is more appropriately categorized under the realm of biology and/or chemistry.

    • Ed Lake

      I think the author may be using the term "thermodynamics" as a way of poking fun at Bloomberg's conceptualisation of the problem.

    • Tss8432

      Thermodynamics refers to the relation between heat, energy, and the ability to do work. This is quite applicable to the study of calorie expenditure. It seems perfectly acceptable in this context, and this is from someone with a chemical engineering degree, though I suspect since you are irritated by the use you are in the sciences as well. I believe your definition for thermo above is actually more applicable to the related field of physical chemistry. Let's not quibble. Call it thermodynamics and debate the important points.

      • Crystal Bailey

        You correctly surmise that I'm a scientist: I have a PhD in Nuclear Physics. And while I agree that "heat, energy, and the ability to do work" is relevant to things like metabolism, it is also relevant to just about every process on earth (as most physics concepts are).

        The concept that the author describes in the article--"if you take more energy than you use, you store it"--describes a metabolic process that takes place within living cells which is facilitated by chemical processes (specifically chemical transformations), which if anything could be associated with electrical properties of atoms, not thermal properties (though heat is released as a result of the reactions in the cells). I would argue that branding this process directly with a broad set of physics terms is counterproductive to begin with--it is a chemical process. It is not related to the basic laws of thermodynamics, and the only reason I can find that the author continued to invoke this term is because Bloomberg did, which I think is irresponsible.

        To your statement about "quibbling": as a physicist who has spent a large amount of time disabusing the public of incorrect understanding of physics terms ("quantum" is a particularly egregious example), that they picked up from that term's misuse in popular media, I tend to care a lot of about these kinds of things.

        • Guest

          Right; you're a scientist, not an engineer -- which means that your definition of thermodynamics is going to be a bit different than the engineering definition of it, even though it's the same basic laws. Bloomberg's use is related to the engineering definition.

          In engineering, the First Law of Thermodynamics is another name for conservation of energy: given any system with a well-defined boundary, the total energy entering the system minus the total energy leaving the system is equal to the total change of energy stored within the system.

          It is entirely reasonable, from an engineering point of view, to consider the human body (including contents of the stomach and guts) as such a system. The food that comes in is the primary form of energy entering the system, and changes in body mass are the primary form of long-term energy storage within the body.

          What Bloomberg, and most other people, miss is that the energy leaving the body is much more complicated than they think. The energy leaving the body is almost entirely two things: heat and fecal matter -- and the amounts of energy in body of those affected by many complicated things. (Even when exercising, the visible work from the exercise is mostly immaterial.) Among those complicated things are biological responses to the food that one eats -- and so, for instance, cutting out 400 calories of breakfast will (for some people, some of the time) cause their bodies to reduce their energy output by more than 400 calories, and so they gain weight by eating less.

          (For argument-by-qualifications: My Ph.D. is in mechanical engineering, specializing in thermosciences.)

        • Brooks Moses

          Right; you're a scientist, not an engineer -- which means that your definition of thermodynamics is going to be a bit different than the engineering definition of it, even though it's the same basic laws. Bloomberg's use is related to the engineering definition.

          In engineering, the First Law of Thermodynamics is another name for conservation of energy: given any system with a well-defined boundary, the total energy entering the system minus the total energy leaving the system is equal to the total change of energy stored within the system.

          It is entirely reasonable, from an engineering point of view, to consider the human body (including contents of the stomach and guts) as such a system. The food that comes in is the primary form of energy entering the system, and changes in body mass are the primary form of long-term energy storage within the body.

          What Bloomberg, and most other people, miss is that the energy leaving the body is much more complicated than they think. The energy leaving the body is almost entirely two things: heat and fecal matter -- and the amounts of energy in both of those is affected by many complicated things. (Even when exercising, the visible work from the exercise is mostly immaterial.) Among those complicated things are biological responses to the food that one eats -- and so, for instance, cutting out 400 calories of breakfast will (for some people, some of the time) cause their bodies to reduce their energy output by more than 400 calories, and so they gain weight by eating less.

          (For argument-by-qualifications: My Ph.D. is in mechanical engineering, specializing in thermosciences.)

    • Brooks Moses

      I followed up in more details below, but no; Bloomberg was specifically referring to the First Law of Thermodynamics (aka "conservation of energy") and using it correctly -- except that he has no idea how energy leaves the body and thus is making entirely fallacious conclusions from it.

  • Kitwench

    "One recent model estimated that eating a mere 30 calories a day more
    than you use is enough to lead to serious weight gain. Given what each
    person consumes in a day (1,500 to 2,000 calories in poorer nations;
    2,500 to 4,000 in wealthy ones), 30 calories is a trivial amount: by my
    calculations, that’s just two or three peanut M&Ms. If eliminating
    that little from the daily diet were enough to prevent weight gain, then
    people should have no trouble losing a few pounds."

    This is INCREDIBLY bad logic and not even remotely math.

    If you *need* 2500 calories a day, and eat 2530 then you'll gain weight, yep.

    If you do NOT need 2500 a day, and cut back from 2530 to 2500 it's not going to make any difference at all!

    I am 45 years old. I am 5'1". If I ate 2500 calories a day I'd weigh - well, I'd weigh what I did 4 years ago before I realized the '2000 calories a day' was a meaningless average.

    The average calorie intake *I* need to stay at a healthy weight of about 120lbs is 1700 a day.
    Yet - they're suggesting that in poorer nations the 1500 - 200 is 'bad' ?
    And in wealthy nations we eat 2500 to 4000 calories A DAY???
    And you think that's OK??
    And cutting out 30 calories should help???

    This isn't science, it's more feel good crap.

    • Dthoris

      But by a purely thermodynamic model, which is what he was referring to, and what is largely touted by people who say obesity is purely a choice, going from 2530 to 2500 would make a difference. You can't argue both sides of that. It only makes a difference when it brings you down to your "right" level, is hokum.

      • Kitwench

        The claim was that 'normal' calorie intake is between 2500 and 4000 calories per day.
        That's still between 500 and 1500 calories MORE per day than your body needs.
        If you eat more than your body needs, you gain weight.
        If you cut a very small amount - 30 calories?
        And are still eating 500 to 1500 calories MORE than your body needs?
        You'll still gain weight.
        A teeeny bit slower - but STILL too much food and STILL gaining weight.

        • indianlooks

          You don't know "my" body or anyone else's needs. Your conviction that you do is as arrogant as it is ignorant.

          • Kitwench

            The 2000 calorie 'average daily intake need' was arrived at through studying the calorie needs of 18 - 24 yo male college students in the 70's.
            The odds of that applying to you are incredibly slim.

            If you are overweight you are taking in more calories than your body needs. Period.

            The vast majority of women in the U.S. ARE eating between 2500 and 400 calories per day - exactly as the article states.

            However, that same vast majority would by ANY nutritional calculator that looked at height, weight, age, gender and activity level would show that only a very small percentage of women need even CLOSE to 2000 calories.

            That would be body builders, actual *athletes* (not 'Oh, I walk at lunch sometimes) and pregnant women.
            So if you're overweight and you're sure it's because people on the internet are mean and say things you didn't want to know?
            Good luck with that.

    • mitchyde

      Totally agree with Kitwench. If you're a moderately active short female and you want to be a size 2 (which is a healthy weight for us, according to the charts), you can't eat more than 1700 calories a day. One lunch at a place like TGIFridays will put you over your entire day's allotment of food and you will gain weight, even if you eat nothing else for the rest of the day. If, on the other hand, you consume your entire 1700 calories in sweet tea and Cheetos and do not eat anything else, you will not gain weight. You'll feel like crap, but you will not gain weight. Yes, I believe there are other things to consider (I personally like the temperature theory), but their effects on the human body pale in comparison to the gigantic caloric load that people consume on a daily basis.

      • NN

        Well I'm a 30-year old woman, 5'2 tall and around 105 lbs, body fat around 20%. I eat roughly 2600-2800 kcal per day or even more, carbs, fat, sugar, lots of non-food crap. With 60 min of running 6 days per week my weight is stable with this amount of food. It is easy for me to believe that a calorie is not a calorie, since I should not be able to be this small with my eating habits. Probably it is the other way around for many people.

        • KrishnaPineapple

          I'm in your camp. I'm 31, 5' 5", 125 lbs, with a body fat at about 16%. I'm a ballet dancer. I dance 3-6 hours a day and lift weights three times a week (hypertrophy and strength). If I don't top 3000 calories a day, I fall right off my pointe shoes and end up disabled. I have hyperextended legs and incredibly arched feet, which is genetic. If my metabolism isn't also genetic, I will be shocked. My ballet buddies and I are freaks.

  • smalerie

    As a researcher who works with non-human primates (many of which are overweight), I suspect that there have been significant changes to the diets of lab animals over the past few decades, though these don't show up when looking at carb-fat-protein content. The companies that produce lab animal chow (Purina being the big one), obviously aim to reduce the cost of making the food while keeping the macronutrient levels relatively constant. This means that what goes into lab animal diets is subject to market forces and is not static. I'd be really interested to know how the ingredients that go into the lab animal chow have changed since the 70s.

    • PJ

      I've read that when studies are done on high-fat diets, oil is poured onto one group's chow while the control group gets regular chow; they don't get a fat source that they would find in the wild (nuts & seeds, for example). I've always been curious about what KIND of oil is used; not all fats are equal. Some vegetable oils are known to cause significant inflammation; coconut oil can cause weight loss. What if 50 years ago labs used lard, and now they use soybean oil? What if the seeming effects on atherosclerosis, weight gain, etc, are determined by the TYPE of fat and have nothing to do with added calories?

      Or perhaps the carb source in chow used to be rice or potatoes, and now it's corn or wheat? If the protein used to be eggs, and now it's soy, the effects on health and weight could be affected by the quality of the food regardless of whether the macronutrients are the same.

      • David_Brown

        You make some good points. Industrial seed oils are a novel component in the modern dietary. Human chow has been reconfigured to conform to government dietary advice to restrict saturated fats replacing them with polyunsaturated oils. Animal chow has been reconfigured to take advantage of the cheapest available food components. Google - Vegetable oils promote obesity.

        • George

          Yes, animal diets are not the same as they were. Because more pigs are fed soy and corn, lard can be higher in omega 6 PUFA than it used to be (30% as opposed to 11%). The diets may be the same in calories, macronutrient ratios, and vitamins etc (though some manufacturing processes will have changed) but the quality will have shifted.

          • JKK

            Conditions for non-human primates have changed dramatícally over the years, primarily to satisfy government standards for care, ironically imposed by animal rights regulations. Non-primates used to be housed in colony rooms, not individual cages and fed natural diets instead of pellets. With these changes, it's not surprising that they are suffering.

          • sarah

            GMO soy and corn no less. didn't have that in the 50s.

          • Jerome Bigge

            There is also the consideration that the animal meat we eat today has come from animals that were fed antibiotics their entire lifetime along with growth hormones and steroids (to encourage weight gain). Today's chickens are twice as heavy as were the chickens of 1964. This has come about both through genetic modification and the changes in animal diets. I'd expect the same thing is true of pigs and cattle. So we also need to consider the changes in our foods, the effective of genetic modification (frankenfood) that have occurred...

      • buffsrtoo

        Wheat is the likely culprit.

        • Bryan J. Maloney

          Rubbish and nonsense. Wheat has been the primary grain and a very large part of the diets of several cultures for millenia. Likewise, this silly fairy tale doesn't explain why weights are also going up in cultures that are not heavy wheat consumers. While I consider the bandying about of the word "chemicals" as if it meant "demons" to be stupid, the possibility of specific chemicals, such as BPA and its hormonal effects is probably much more likely.

          • Bill

            Perhaps if you read the book you would see just how much wheat has changed in the last 50 years.

          • buffsrtoo

            You are correct, Bill. This is an important discovery that is beginning to be recognized by the mainstream medical establishment. In the last 4 months in trying to get cardiac clearance for anesthesia I have had 3 or maybe 4 medical professionals tell me that they, too, have eliminated wheat.

          • buffsrtoo

            Did you watch the lecture? I eliminated wheat in April of this year and lost 30 lbs in those few months. It takes some diligence to eliminate it because it is in everything. I'm not saying it is the only cause; however it certainly contributes along with soy, which is not edible unless fermented, and your chemical contaminations. You are correct that wheat has been a staple for most of human history but the substance we call "wheat" is not wheat. It is a hybrid developed with the best of intentions to increase yield. It does do that but it is also making us fat. Listen to the lecture and read his book "Wheatbelly". And... the obesity epidemic and hybridized wheat are the same age. The hybrid began to be prevalent in the 60s and 70s and obesity increased in basically the same time period.

          • Islander

            If you're American, it's not strange you can lose weight by eliminating wheat, since your food is so rich in wheat. Wheat makes up a very high percentage of its carbohydrates.

            In other parts of the world, the bulk of carbohydrates comes from, for example, rice or potatoes. Eliminating wheat isn't likely to have as large an effect there.

            When hybridised wheat became common, the yield also got larger, and more wheat was pushed onto the consumers. It's not necessarily the *type* of wheat that's contributing to obesity; it may simply be the amount of it.

          • Dan

            "It takes some diligence to eliminate it because it is in everything."

            You stopped eating something that's in nearly everything you used to eat and somehow saw dramatic weight loss? Incredible!

          • Guest

            It is actually not true that soy has to be fermented to be edible. Most soy foods are not fermented. Now, soy does have to be cooked to be edible, but so do a lot of other foods, like potatoes, for example.

        • truth_machine

          The vast majority of posts on the internet that promote a single cause or solution are bunkem. Personal "it worked for me!" testimonials don't change that.

          • Maia

            Yes, including the lastest "wheat is evil" campaign.

        • IndyTracie

          Wheat HAS been a primary source of grain since the first nomads settled on some land and became farmers in Mesopotamia. But Einkorn wheat is completely different in structure to the modern GM wheat used to make your Wonder Bread. The body processes the GM wheat (and other GMOs, including soy and corn- which the US DOES export to less wealthy nations) in a way that likely encourages fat production and storage. Either watch the lecture or read Dr. Davis' book. It's a bit of an eye opener.

          • ElaineMarie34

            You're misinformed. THere is no commercially available genetically modified wheat (yet). The majority of corn, canola, soy, cotton, and sugar beets are genetically modified in North America. If you're seeing labels that say "non-GMO" on products that don't contain these ingredients, you're being manipulated by a label, and it's not helpful to the non-GMO cause (which I support). The chemical companies are also introducing GMO farmed salmon and, I believe, GMO tomatoes.
            Also: remember that certified organic foods may not, by law, contain GMO ingredients. Your best bet is to buy certified organic if you're ingesting the above crops in any form.

      • truth_machine

        "I've read that when studies are done on high-fat diets, oil is poured
        onto one group's chow while the control group gets regular chow"

        Where did you read that? Perhaps in an unsourced anonymous blog comment like your own? That seems to be where most people get their information -- and beliefs -- these days.

    • Mike

      Laboratory animal chow has changed dramatically over the time encapsulated by this study. Harlan Labs, makers of one of the most popular formulations of rat & mouse chow (Teklab), have reformulated their chow several times during the last 2-3 decades, using a larger percentage of corn, corn gluten meal, and soybean meal to maintain a consistent meal price.

      At this time, 88% of America's corn and 94% of America's soybean crop are GMO; GMO soy & corn didn't exist in this country until 1996. So any dataset that claims to be using the same strictly-controlled food and covers a range before 1996 is highly suspect (NB, every group in this study begins before 1996, with feral rats going back as far as the late 40s.)

      • August Pamplona

        And the significance of raising the issue of transgenic crops which are, for all practical purposes, compositionally identical to non transgenic crops is exactly what? In any case, when looking at obesity rates there exists no inflection point corresponding to when these crops were introduced so you can't even claim a (misinterpreted) correlation.

        • Nick

          Although I agree with you about not being able to claim a correlation between GMOs and weight gain, the person you are attacking didn't make the claim you attribute to them. They are merely stating that the lab chow has changed, which is true.

          • August Pamplona

            That certainly seems to be the the intent of their first paragraph and it is also true that I did improperly extrapolate a meaning to the general population which was not stated in the text. However, the comments also seem to be attributing some peculiar significance to the the date of 1996, when transgenic soy & corn were introduced into feeds, which would seem to me to have no justification other than magic.

          • George

            You could say that "more research is needed" about any effect of GMOs.
            You could even say that this finding, of increased weight in lab animals, will be part of the epidemiology around that putative effect when it is studied comprehensively.
            Nothing magic about that.

          • August Pamplona

            It's magic because there exists no reasonable plausibility for any effect specific to the use of transgenics. When a person postulates such an effect, they come absurdly close to saying, essentially, that it's an effect due to cooties (see --referring to the childlore meaning).

            Any effect, if it existed, would have to be due to the specific protein which the transgenic event caused to be expressed and we know that these particular proteins are treated by us and by our rodent stand ins just like any other protein (of course, that need not be the case with any possible protein but it is the case with the set of proteins being expressed in these crops).

            The fact is that the overall impact of a single such protein (or two or three --in the cases of stacked traits) out of many thousands of proteins that are produced by these plants on the nutritional profile of said plants is dwarfed by the differences you will find between one non transgenic variety and another non transgenic variety. In fact, it will be dwarfed when compared even to the differences between plants of the same variety exposed to different growing conditions (it turns out that when wine snobs talk about the terroir of a particular geographic location they are kind of right).

            Substantial equivalence is not just some Monsanto buzzword, as some anti-GMO activists seem to think. Substantial equivalence is what we actually see when we look at these crops. This review might be helpful:

            Hope that helps. Have a great day!

          • George

            Firstly, why not wait till the science provides more evidence? Why the rush to presume novel foods are safe? Indeed, where is there enough necessity for these foods to justify even the smallest risk?

            Secondly, what about novel proteins and novel toxins formed by novel combinations of genes? Genes do not just act alone but also interact with each other. The Showa Denko GMO l-tryptophan poisoning scandal supports the possibility that novel toxins can be formed by GMO interactions.

            Thirdly - these exploding GMO cows prove that GMO scientists cannot reliably predict the consequences of their actions.

          • August Pamplona

            First, the standard practice with non transgenic development of novel foods (with few exceptions) is to presume that novel foods *are* safe. In contrast, as a matter of practice and contrary to what you seem to think, no such presumption is exercised with these transgenic crops. There's more than sufficient evidence that they are safe. As to your misapplication of the precautionary principle, the real question here is why should transgenic food crops created be thought to pose more risks than non transgenic food crops developed not employing a transgenic event (since you are surely not intending to suggest that we should halt all crop improvement).

            See the following table:

            What reason do you propose for the two columns on the right to be inherently more likely to present risks than the other columns?

            With regard to unexpected effects unrelated to the protein itself, no one has ever managed to explain to me why such unexpected effects should be likely to produce hazards when using genetic engineering techniques (so much so that no amount of testing is ever sufficient to quell fears) but not such things as mutational breeding, recombination errors, transposon insertions, etc. (so much so that we do not think non transgenic crop improvement merits any testing at all).

            As to l-tryptophan related EMS, if the fermentation by l-tryptophan overexpressing genetically engineered bacteria process used by Showa Denko had anything to do with it it would be because overproduction of l-tryptophan would have involved the production of toxic secondary metabolites (either due to the high l-tryptophan levels or due to high levels of some intermediate in its biosynthetic pathway). If they had gone to the work, through non-transgenic means, of creating mutants capable of greater & greater overproduction, the result would have been the same.

            In any case, the l-tryptophan EMS incident is hardly the open and shut case you seem to think it is. See for the short version and for the slightly longer version.

            As for your last paragraph, I made it a point to point out to you that I was referring to specific traits (specifically, since we're talking about animal feeds we're talking about maize & soy which means we're referring to BT delta endotoxins & the glyphosate resistance traits). Of course, you can produce all sorts of proteins with all sorts of effects. However, we're not talking about all sorts of proteins. We're talking about specific proteins with specific effects.

            As to your exploding cows, to suggest that no one could have foreseen ovarian abnormalities in an animal constitutively overexpressing follicle stimulating hormone is beyond stupid. Though I know nothing about this research, I kind of doubt that this was the case. I have to assume that they expected to restrict expression to milk glands and that they expected no systemic effects and that this did not happen. In any case, you are talking about a research program (and not a crop improvement program at that but, instead, a pharmaceutical program) rather than something which has been commercially released after testing.

          • secondH

            The tryptophan poisoning was due to the method of extraction of tryptophan from the plants, not the plants themselves, it was a methanol derived (essentially formal HC(OH)3 ) adduct that made an L-trp dimer that was responsible for the eosinophilia, as determined at Mayo Clinic by a good friend of mine.

          • George

            1) The l-tryptophan in question was never extracted from plants
            2) The GMO organisms involved were deliberately destroyed by Showa Denko, who obstructed investigations completely, and were never available to researchers, so any theory about how and when the novel toxin was formed remains a theory.
            However, if the contamination had been due to something other than the workings of the modified GMO biosynthetic proteins, it would have probably have been in Showa Denko's interests to help confirm this.

          • truth_machine

            "However, if the contamination had been due to something other than the
            workings of the modified GMO biosynthetic proteins, it would have
            probably have been in Showa Denko's interests to help confirm this."

            What an absurd assertion ... but par for the course in discussions about GMO.

        • Bryan J. Maloney

          The issue of "GMO" is raised because it's a convenient "demon" for the superstitious to attack, of course.

          • George

            Furthermore the question that must be asked - where is the NECESSITY for GMO foods to be sold?
            Where is the proof that they decrease famine, and why are they sold in the US, where excess, not famine, is the norm?
            What is the emergency that this risk-taking is supposed to be addressing? Except the emergency of a potential drop in Monsanto's share price?

          • Bryan J. Maloney

            Where is the necessity for Disqus? What is the emergency that online yammerfests is supposed to be addressing? The opposition to GMO is primarily based upon superstition.

          • George

            This line of abuse or defensiveness or whatever it is supposed to be has nothing to do with me or my questions. You are enjoying a discussion with yourself.
            I am not opposed to experimentation with GMOs or any new invention.
            However, I choose not to use them until I have seen scientific evidence to support the view that I will personally benefit from using them. This could happen tomorrow, but it doesn't even seem to be part of the debate at present.
            Qui Bono? If not me, include me out.

          • Larry171

            Actually support for GMOs is pure mythology. EU rat studies showed all BT based GMOs are TOXIC and carcinogenic. Monsanto's rat studies mirrored the failures of the original thalidomide studies, though for different reasons. The thalidomide studies were invalid because they ignored the fact that humans aren't nocturnal like rats so dosing at the same time a day as intended use wouldn't work. FDA refused to license it here for inadequate testing. Monsanto's studies were simply far too short. They fed rats their shit for 19 days and then stopped taking notes. The EU study added a mere 9 days more to observe such wonderful effects as a 60% mortality rate! And the "surviving" rats were tumor infested. Of note is that mammary tissue, you know the tissue that defines the class of animals we are part of, was particularly sensitive.

          • Larry171

            GMOs have never been proven to increase farm production, in fact the opposite is true.

          • George

            Bryan, if you want to appear superstitious, just keep using the word "demon" and avoid attempting to reason, that works well.

          • Bryan J. Maloney

            I'm just pointing out how the superstitious treat GMO like some kind of demonic entity. It's that simple. Too bad it gives you the willies and upsets you and your fellow cultists.

          • Larry171

            GMOs are raised because one they are new to the mix and two they have not been ruled out. Most GMOs should be outlawed from the sheer PROVEN FACT they cause cancers, regardless of any link to obesity. Oh, my agnostic ass studied biochemistry at Johns Hopkins Univ. not in the seminary at Yale.

          • August Pamplona

            Your notion that GMO's cause cancer comes from a study by Seralini et al which borders on the fraudulent. It has been so thoroughly shredded that no serious scientist takes it seriously.

            P.S. By the way, thanks for pointing out that you have a biochemistry degree from Hopkins. I wasn't going to believe your bullshit (due to its lack of congruence with reality) but now that I know that you have a degree in biochemistry you seem so credible to me that a mere trifle could tip me over the edge and get me to believe absolutely anything you say.


          • Nick

            You mean completely DISPROVEN ASSERTION that that they cause cancer.

          • Larry171

            I see we some corporate trolls here. Wrong the recent rat studies done by the EU proved GMO corn and potatoes carcinogenic. In fact it was Monsanto's "safety" study that ended up discredited as too short a time frame (19 days) while the EU studies (28 days) showed a 60% mortality rate and most of the survivors had massive tumors. This was much like the thalidomide testing done decades ago where the testers gave it to rats at the same time of day as expected to be used by pregnant women. The testers neglected the fact humans are not noctural like rats. A better functioning FDA, than today, barred thalidomide from use in the US, saving many birth defects here. BT attacks the alimentary canal producing micro-perferations which allow partially digested food to enter the blood stream, promoting alergic and autoimmune reactions. This is how it causes or ascerbates numerous inflamatory diseases. The complaints from hog farmers, that their hogs stop socializing, form the basis of a connection to autism. Mammary tissue appeared particularly sensitive to the toxin. The glyphosate contamination is another issue and goes to birth defects and cancer. The latest GMO from Monsanto adds glyphosate resistance to crops thus allowing greater use of that poison.

          • guestR

            No, it's too bad you're a joke. :)

        • Larry171

          GMOs don't make the issue any clearer nor the food any better. Most GMOs have the BT TOXIN gene inserted. BT was a bacteria grown as a pesticide for use in the Gypsy Moth wars (before over-population led to a epidemic and collapse from the polyhedral virus). The BT TOXIN is TOXIC to MOST animal life. For insects, that haven't become immune, it causes there guts to burst, for mammals it causes a host of diseases from cancers to a spectrum of inflammatory diseases. Given the reports from farmers of how their hogs fed that crap become anti-social it's the likely cause of our autism epidemic.

          • Larry171

            GMOs have proven to be LESS cost effective for farmers to grow in the first place and increasingly so with the speed insects evolve to acquire immunity to a pesticide that cannot be washed off. BTW, but Monsanto, et al won't tell its customers the truth like with its sales of rBGH and the toll it takes on the herds.

          • August Pamplona

            Poor stupid farmers! So unsophisticated!

          • Larry171

            It's foolish to ever trust a corporation, from the view of the DSM they are virtual psychopaths to paraphrase the FBI's leading consultant on psychopaths.

          • August Pamplona

            Larry171 (who is absolutely not typing a message on a device using electronics created by corporations and who is absolutely not transmitting said message using an internet connection provided by various corporations) writes:
            «It's foolish to ever trust a corporation, from the view of the DSM they
            are virtual psychopaths to paraphrase the FBI's leading consultant on

            Fortunately, farmers don't have to ever "trust a corporation". They merely have to decide whether products provided by various corporations are sufficiently advantageous for them to use. If they are not, they are free to not use them (and some don't).

            Farmers, as a general rule, are not idiots needing to be protected from themselves by the likes of you. In the US*, farmers of staple crops (other than wheat --since there's no commercialized transgenic wheat) are massively choosing these seeds. In doing so, they are making a more rational choice than any conspiracy theorist sheep is ever likely to make in their purchases.

            Just sayin'.

            * Sometimes, the advantage of these traits can be even greater in some developing countries (see ). This is even the case when not dealing with food staple crops such as with cotton cultivation in India where, in addition to improving net profitability (contrary to the nonsense spread on this issue by the likes of Vandana Shiva), it reduces pesticide use which is a great benefit (specially when they are likely to be dealing with very toxic chemicals like monocrotophos).

          • August Pamplona

            I don't know why I am appearing as "guest". I posted as myself and then rewrote the post for formatting reasons (including using a shortened URL). When I posted the reformatted version and deleted my original post it seems that instead of the original version being deleted it got reattributed to an anonymous guest.


          • Larry171

            So you are saying corporations don't lie and issue propaganda like you spew. Hell, Nike sought the Rehnquist court to rule that corporations had a right to lie, thus gutting fraud and false advertizing laws! It was a position the corrupt Rehnquist court found too immoral even for that group of fraudsters so it left the Appellate court ruling intact. In fact people have no right to lie, but the government has no cause to act on the lie if there is no injury. A person yelling fire in an empty theatre is not going to be charged even if cited because there is no potential for injury where one who does it in a crowded theatre will rightly be cited and charged.

          • August Pamplona

            No, I'm saying that farmers are not morons incapable of evaluating whether a certain variety of seed is performing well.

            You are citing studies that do not exist in support of claims regarding health effects of Cry proteins in mammals which no one has ever seen.

          • Larry171

            Cry proteins? The EU study most certainly exists and is the basis for the EU banning importation of at least those GMO crops. It would take years of study and analysis for an individual farmer to assess the effectiveness of a certain type of seed. Farmers generally don't have time to do this, and the men running ADM, Conagra, etc. don't have the smarts. Evaluating the crops produced requires large numbers with soil (fertillization) and climate (temperature and rainfall) conditions collated and eliminated from the equation. But on the face of it, the fact is that the plants waste energy producing the toxin which means they produce LESS edible starch, sugar, and protein for the same imput.

          • August Pamplona

            I call bullshit.

            These European government decisions are motivated by politics including responding to woefully misinformed constituents and anti-GMO activists (there's one interesting look at a different aspect of some of those politics at --look also at the comedy of errors resulting from the stupid politics in Italy which is described at ) and are not science based (and, for your edification, there's BT corn being planted in Germany & Spain). That is certainly not EFSA's position. In fact, the chief scientific adviser of this agency, Anne Glover, has made a very public statement relatively recently regarding how there "is no
            substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health, animal health or
            environmental health." That certainly doesn't sound like the position of someone who considers various Cry proteins as being "TOXIC to MOST animal life" so she must not have seen that study you talk about!

            And again, you keep insisting that farmers are stupid.

            «But on the face of it, the fact is that the plants waste energy
            producing the toxin which means they produce LESS edible starch, sugar,
            and protein for the same imput.»

            This is technically true but just how much biomass do you think the plant is producing as BT as a proportion of total biomass? 10%? 1%? And, of course, you are disregarding the reason the protein is in there in the first place, to protect against yield loss from insect pests. Farmers who are seeing problems from certain pests will use BT corn varieties because it helps to reduce losses while greatly reducing the need for insecticide inputs. Thus, if you are seeing a non measurable yield drag from the Cry protein expression it is more than made up for by not losing part of your crop to certain insect pests. It also brings the added bonus of a reduced mycotoxin load because when you eliminate insect feeding you are also eliminating entry points for fungal infections.

            So, if you are farming in an insect pest prone area (not everyone is and, for this reason, not everyone uses BT corn), you are getting greater yields, less need to spray toxic insecticides and lower levels of mycotoxin contamination as a result of using a BT traited variety.

            Yup, I can see how that would be a problem for those stupid, know nothing farmers.

            I suppose that I should be thankful that at least you are not directly referencing Jeffrey Smith to me.

          • Larry171

            I suggest you look in the mirror when you cry "bullshit." What are you a Monsanto lobbyist? Owner of a thousand shares in that evil ediface? Wow because the EU's food safety division wasn't overrun with corporate lobbyists like our own FDA, it is corrupt, funny concept. Yeah it is actually politics for a gov't agency to perform its function. That is policy in action.

            I knew for fact I can no longer eat my once beloved Cheerios because of GMO toxicity (without taking diphenylhydramine first). I was eating them without problems into my 30's so It isn't a simple allergy.

            Or do you watch Faux News, proven to make one less well informed than those who watch no news.

            Whatever, continue to argue with a fool and people begin to wonder who is the real fool. You live in a world of denial and delusion. I'm off this.

          • GuestR

            Thank you for all your posts!

          • GuestR

            How can you be so blind? The studies EXIST. Peer-reviewed studies! You are brainwashed, who are you protecting? Farmers are not stupid, but they are manipulated.

          • August Pamplona

            Larry171 (who is absolutely not typing a message on a device using electronics created by corporations and who is absolutely not transmitting said message using an internet connection provided by various corporations) writes:
            «It's foolish to ever trust a corporation, from the view of the DSM they are virtual psychopaths to paraphrase the FBI's leading consultant on psychopaths.»

            Fortunately, farmers don't have to ever "trust a corporation". They merely have to decide whether products provided by various corporations are sufficiently advantageous for them to use. If they are not, they are free to not use them (and some don't).

            Farmers, as a general rule, are not idiots needing to be protected from themselves by the likes of you. In the US*, farmers of staple crops (other than wheat --since there's no commercialized transgenic wheat) are massively choosing these seeds. In doing so, they are making a more rational choice than any conspiracy theorist sheep is ever likely to make in their purchases.

            Just sayin'.

            * Sometimes, the advantage of these traits can be even greater in some developing countries (see ). This is even the case when not dealing with food staple crops such as with cotton cultivation in India where, in addition to improving net profitability (contrary to the nonsense spread on this issue by the likes of Vandana Shiva), it reduces pesticide use which is a great benefit (specially when they are likely to be dealing with very toxic chemicals like monocrotophos).

          • August Pamplona

            «Most GMOs have the BT TOXIN gene inserted.»

            Transgenic plants with the BT trait have a gene coding for BT toxin inserted in their genome. Transgenic plants without the BT trait do not have a gene coding for BT toxin inserted in their genome.

            «The BT TOXIN is TOXIC to MOST animal life.»

            False. Different BT toxins have different toxicity profiles but they are not even toxic to all insects. Their toxicity profiles are restricted to combinations of effectiveness against Lepidoptera, Coleoptera & Diptera.

            «For insects, that haven't become immune, it causes there guts to burst,
            for mammals it causes a host of diseases from cancers to a spectrum of
            inflammatory diseases.»

            Nothing is accurate in the above two sentences.

            «Given the reports from farmers of how their hogs fed that crap become anti-social it's the likely cause of our autism epidemic.»

            Everything is said to cause autism if you just ask the right crackpot.

            Also, given the paternalistic, condescending attitude you display when you imply farmers cannot figure out whether they are making a profit without your help, I truly doubt that you know any farmers. You are merely accepting uncritically and then repeating the information which you see on anti-GMO activist websites.

          • GuestR

            You make impressive arguments - "Nothing is accurate in the above sentence." Wow. Totally convinced me with your one-sided knowledge. NOT. It would do you and me a great service if you just stopped commenting.

      • Vincent Maldia

        " GMO soy & corn didn't exist in this country until 1996. So any
        dataset that claims to be using the same strictly-controlled food and
        covers a range before 1996 is highly suspect (NB, every group in this
        study begins before 1996, with feral rats going back as far as the late

        well if GMO was the culprit then we would see a flat line in the graph then a sudden hokeystick surge at 1996. Do we see that? If we dont then we must seriously consider that GMO is not involved

        • Bryan J. Maloney

          You are not allowed to say that. The cultists have made their ruling. The demon named "GMO" is to blame for everything, so any data that does not agree with their superstitious dogma is automatically "suspect".

          • Larry171

            First the article in no way suggests GMOs are the sole cause of the obesity issue. The article is about debunking the myth that obesity is simply caused by a lack of will power. The article stands for the fact that it is a complex problem. It doesn't even address anything about "good" fat: brown fat which would normally burn off excess calories by slightly raising body temp. It appears whatever the cause(s), ultimately its a failure of brown fat to burn off the excess. In a test of the brown fat hypothesis, a scientist developed a strain of genetically obese rats. Interestingly, these obese rats die from hypothermia when exposed to a 40F environment, regular rats shiver to generate extra heat until their brown fat increases in mass and activity to restore normal body temp.

          • August Pamplona

            Actually, the article doesn't mention transgenic organisms anywhere. Some commenters brought this up in the context of possible compositional changes in laboratory chow, that's all.

        • Larry171

          Vince, I never said GMOs were the cause just they could be one of several causes modern life has thrust upon us. Actions unfortunately often have unintended negative consequences. What we see is a roughly logarythmic increase. At this point the main culprit could be found to be the unsound use of antibiotics in cattle feed (to kill off the symbiotic E coli infecting their guts).

    • Jack Cameron

      The lard based high fat research diet D12492 produced by Research Diets, which contains 60% of energy as fat, has been used over many years in many scientific animal studies related to the effects of high fat diets. The manufacturers provided details of the nutrient content of the diet based on USDA data which showed that 15% of the fat content was n-6 linoleic acid (LA) About 90% of the fat content was derived from lard and the rest from soybean oil.

      In 2011 the manufacturer tested the d12492 and found that LA comprised 30% of the fat, not 15% as previously published based on USDA data. The increased LA content of the diet is due to increased use of soy chow (which is high in ;LA) in feeding pigs which resulted in high LA content in the lard. Thus many studies were conducted based on erroneous data regard LA content of the diets. To there credit, the company made their findings public.Chris Masterjohn published an article on the subject in his blog The Daily Lipid Nov 19, 2011.



    • effinayright

      How does keeping the costs down while keeping the macronutrient levels relatively constant result in any change to the animals?

      Do their bodies know they are eating cheaper-to-make food?

      • Agrajag

        No. But there might be changes in some parameter that actually makes a difference to the animals, but isn't captured by counting macronutrients.

        A trivial example is that 500 kcal worth of 30% carbs, 30% proteins and 40% fat may have a different effect on an animal if the fat is a different sort of fat, if the protein is of a different sort, or if there's something in the food that doesn't contain calories, but impacts metabolism.

    • Deborah McCall

      Feed with GMO ingredients maybe?

      • Bryan J. Maloney

        BPA alters hormone metabolism. BPA is now ubiquitous in the environment. I would look to BPA and other hormone metabolism-altering substances that have been introduced over the last few decades before silly superstitions like "GMO ingredients"

        • secondH

          Need not even be GMO, those hybrids designed to withstand large doses of glyphosphate (roundup) were ordinary selection hybrids.Nonetheless they (of course) contain large amounts of glyphosphate derived products and those secondary products derived from the plant's response to the huge amount of glyphosphate it sees.

      • Larry171

        Indeed, GMOs are cattle feed was how they were wormed in the mainstream.

    • CaptainFabulous

      This is it in a nutshell, so to speak. The composition of the food we all eat has changed so dramatically over the past 40 years as food companies continue to maximize profits at the expense of our health. Instead of sugar we now get HFCS. Instead of our pet foods being made with chicken, or beef, or fish, the main ingredient is corn. Instead of healthy oils like olive and safflower we're literally bombarded with every conceivable permutation of soy.

      Then factor in that these overused commodities such as corn and soy have been so badly genetically-modified as to not even resemble a specimen from the 50s or 60s and it further compounds the problem as not only are be being fed products in mass quantities that our bodies are not well able to process, they have been bastardized to the point of them being even less viable as food sources.

      And then there's the whole hormone and antibiotic problem that is rampant in the meat and dairy industry. It's gotten to the point where trying to avoid toxic elements in your diet (GMO corn, soy, BPA, hormones, and antibiotics) is not only a full-time job of research and label-reading, but it can also quadruple your food budget.

      But as usual, the food industry has deep pockets, so I certainly wouldn't expect anything to be done by our governments. Hell, we can't get get GMO foods labeled in the US, forget about banned.

      It's sickening and depressing.

      • buffsrtoo

        The obesity phenomenon and the hybrid "wheat" we now eat are the same age. Before the sixties overweight people were rare. See William Davis "Wheatbelly". This is one change that seems to affect all of the above.

      • Nancy Lebovitz

        The current state of American food is also a response to regulation-- the government subsidizes a few major grains. Price support for sugar works as an indirect subsidy to HFCS.

        Oddly, a different set of regulations what usually gets proposed. Surely the government will get it right this time.

    • KJC

      Also curious about differences in hormones fed to animals supplying the feed used.

    • Fern

      Read Dr. Steven Gundry's work, I think it's really interesting. And after you read it, remember this, we, and by extension, the ones in our "care", become plagues and threats.

    • Dr.PARS

      probably in the same cheap way of adding junk to the foods that are consumed by the humans now days.

    • Maia

      Yes, plus increasing contamination from pesticides/herbicides and plastics, plus... has no doubt a role to play here.Whatever the ingredients, how they are grown, treated and processed matters greatly in terms of their effects on body chemistry and metabolism.

    • Dorthy Buchholtz

      ì want to guíde you to amazíng online work opportunity.. 3-5 h of work a day.. payment & at the end of each week.. performance dependíng bonuses...earnings of six to nine thousand dollars /month - merely few hours of your free time, a computer, most elementary familiarìty wìth www and trusted web-connection is what is needed...learn more by headìng to my page

  • Wendy

    The moral of the story; there's no mucking around with nature and getting away with it.

  • Brenton Yeates

    "It’s possible that widespread electrification is promoting obesity by making humans eat at night, when our ancestors were asleep"

    It's also possible that the doubling of life expectancy over the past two centuries is promoting obesity by making humans eat past their "natural" expiration date of around 40 years, when our ancestors were dead. Thus every year after forty isn't really a victory of humanity over mortality, its just another year to accumulate unsightly fat.

    • Dthoris

      Average life span is a poor indicator of lifespan. Average life span factors in infant mortality, which has gone down drastically over the past century, and continues to drop, has raised the average lifespan by decades. A better indicator would probably be "average lifespan of people who attain age 5."

      • Brenton Yeates

        Data of that sort also exists: Average life expectancy for those who have reached the age of 65 was an additional 13.9 years in 1950 (earliest year data was available). By 2012 that figure had increased to 19.1. This takes care of the problem of infant mortality dragging down average life expectancy because of the astoundingly higher rates before modern obstetric methods became standard practice. To summarize, people who reach the age of 65 are living on average 37.5% longer than they were in 1950... I wish I had data from 1900, but I would suspect the figure to be just as dramatic (in the 50-60% range).

        • Dthoris

          Which still doesn't account for a rise childhood, teen, young adult, and adult (non-senior) obesity rates. I still doubt we've "doubled" our life expectancy "past [our] 'natural' expiration date of around 40 years", per your original post. At the most basic level, I doubt the "'natural' expiration date" bit.

  • Brenton Yeates

    I think a little statistical analyses and some insight of general demographic trends, applied judiciously, can "explain away" a lot of this obesity epidemic nonsense that seems to be sweeping the nation.

    First let's consider a basic law of accumulation. If an average healthy adult weighing 180lbs begins putting on weight in middle-age at 40, and can be expected to live until he is 80 years old, that is 40 years in which our model American will be loosening his/her belt. Even extremely modest gains of 1lb/year will result in our 180lbs Joe Sixpack turning into a 220 Joe Spare-tire in his twilight years.

    Couple this with the rapid advances in medical technology and a diminishing birthrate (a product of greater wealth), and you have a recipe for a statistical increase in the amount of overweight people relative to healthy people--BUT this need not arise out of actually increasing the absolute number of obese people in the general population. The rise in obesity rates is a function of fewer younger people (who tend to be leaner, just as a matter of having had less time to put on weight) relative to older folks who are indeed overweight, but also living longer because of advances in medical technology. Prior to the widespread use of statins and the triple-bypass, being obese tended to..well..kill you. And so you saw a lot fewer obese people walking around, because there were indeed less of them.

    The two most important things money can buy are food and health, and as the wealthiest nation in history, it shouldn't come as a surprise that we spend an inordinate amount on both. We haven't yet achieved the right balance (if there even is such a thing), but for my bread the answer to the obesity question is pretty straightforward: generate more wealth. Wealth doesn't just buy more food, it buys better food--It doesn't just buy expensive emergency health services, it can be put in the service of long-term health. It buys the leisure that is mandatory for a regular exercise regiment. And the wonderful thing is... like fat, wealth tends to accumulate around the midsection. The author's thinly veiled disdain for capitalism and the wealth it generates is making the fatal mistake of confusing the cure for the disease.

    • Rosco Bell

      And you are making the mistake of ignoring all the evidence
      that doesn’t fit your theory of the timeless, universal beneficence of
      capitalism. If capitalism, i.e. wealth generation, were the solution we should
      be seeing less obesity globally as capitalism spreads, not more, and Americans
      should be the thinnest people on the planet. I don’t want to argue against the
      efficacy of better food, better health care and appropriate exercise but these
      are just as achievable in a socialist or social democratic society. That
      obesity is affecting almost all societies even as capitalism spreads suggests to
      me that mere wealth generation is not going to produce the effect you claim it
      will. And if the problem is a lack of personal responsibility, then what is it
      about capitalism that causes so many people to forsake it?

      • Brenton Yeates

        No, we would expect to see more obesity as longer life expectancy and diminishing birthrates increase the number of older, overweight individuals relative to their younger, leaner children. The problem is nearly identical to the "graying" of the population. We haven't been stricken by a public health crisis of rapid onset aging, more people just happen to be living longer thanks to rising wealth and better health outcomes.

        I never said capitalism was the cure, I said wealth was. If European social democracies are effective at accumulating wealth (and they are), I would expect to see positive results in years to come.

        As wealth increases people predictably spend more of their income on food, health and hygiene, and can afford to spend less time working. The way they utilize that extra time and money though is up to them. Eating healthy, eating local, regular exercise and adequate rest are all aesthetic values that we seem to think should be universal, but they aren't. The constraints of poverty put very real limits on the choices families make in order to make ends meet.

        You'll notice though that trends are changing. A wealth of new fast food restaurants are offering healthy eating options, Wholefoods and Wegman's are expanding beyond their traditional urban/suburban clientele, and this is because people have more money to spend on the not unsignificant costs of healthier food. As consumers begin to place a higher value on healthy lifestyles, they'll be willing to spend more of their rising incomes on healthier food alternatives. A rising standard of living doesn't guarantee everyone is going to spend their money in the ways we might like them to, but it does make it possible for them to do so if they value them highly enough.

        • Rosco Bell

          “… we would expect to see more obesity as longer life expectancy and diminishing birthrates increase the number of older, overweight individuals relative to their younger, leaner children …”

          Again, you are ignoring the evidence in order to advance your theory. It isn’t just because people are living longer. Children are just as prone to be obese these days as their parents, if not more so, and it does not follow that the older you get the fatter you will become. I would suggest the peak years for weight increase in adults is 40-50 i.e. what used to
          be the average age. My guess is that when the average age was 40, if you did get to be in your 40s and 50s, you were more likely to put on a few pounds too. And even now if you aren’t fat by the time you are 50, you probably won’t ever get fat.

          I don’t think the mere generation of wealth is sufficient to reverse a biological tendency and it doesn’t mitigate the obesity we see in children. At risk of raising a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, I think a better case could be made that it’s the distribution of wealth that is the problem. (Not that I’m making that case; I’m just saying.)

    • ds

      Interesting, enlightening, and well written piece. Thanks.

      The practical upshot, of course, is that we can control our own weight.

  • Neill

    There may well be other factors involved in weight gain and the obesity problem, but to suppose that the argument of over-eating being a factor is too simplistic does not mean it isn't still a factor and probably the most important factor. These ideas are not mutually exclusive. I gained 20% more weight in one year through a changed diet where I ate more. I lost it most of it again by changing that diet back.

    • Philbert

      Never does the article say overeating doesn't factor in. Anyone who thinks otherwise has heard what they want to and not actually read/understood the entire article. The article is clear throughout that there are many potential and likely factors, and focuses its energy on examining possible causes outside the realm of fat-shaming. As an aside, my spouse is rail thin and the Hapifork would vibrate the teeth right out of his mouth, so there's a fat-shame myth busted, right there.

  • Rob Lewis

    A huge piece of the puzzle: the worldwide switch to diets high in easily-digested carbohydrates like sugar, HFCS, and refined flour.

    Must read: Good Calories, Bad Calories by science reporter Gary Taubes. Short version: eating fat doesn't make you fat (or give you heart disease, or diabetes, or high blood pressure, or strokes, or cancer). These "diseases of civilization" are mostly due to the action of insulin in high-carb diets.

    • Bernt

      Rob, thanks. I concur.

  • Paul

    Here's the real kicker: Obese mothers with bad diets who have babies and feed them soy-based formulas from plastic bottles heated in a microwave - short of gunshot, the best way I know to f*** that kid's pancreatic B cells. Result: no appetite control and crazy blood sugar, probably for the rest of his/her life.
    Were are a sturdy species, but there are limits.

    • ArchiesBoy

      I think the fact that my mother bottle-fed me sugared canned milk as formula, timed the feedings, yanked the bottle out of my mouth whether or not I was done or not had something to do with it all...

      • EP


    • LindaSteg

      actually, any formulas change the normal bacterial culture in the human gut and formula fed infants are more at risk of becoming obese, as are babies born by elective caesarean. Just think about how many people on the planet are affected by these factors including third world countries and animals in captivity.... And the effect lasts for 2 generations.

  • Olin Smith

    Great article.

  • Becky Carleton

    I disagree with your insistance that fat is always such a health problem, but otherwise this is a fascinating report. I love broad perspectives on complex issues like this. I highly recommend the book Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon. Thanks for sharing this well written piece.

  • StatusQuoLivesOn

    There is a lot of fat hate around here.
    Sorry your daughter was so turned off by the image -- I was turned on.
    Sorry evidence doesn't sway your thinking unless it agrees with what you already believe.
    Sorry so many of you are ignorant and hateful.
    Sorry that will never be medicalized.
    I also notice that many people's chosen icons show them as white. I suspect most of them middle class. Check your privilege, open your minds, then we can have a discussion. Until then, adios guys and continue to stew in your hate with each other.

    • ArchiesBoy

      The fat haters are the ones without fat problems, can't empathize and so by definition don't know what the hell they're talking about. Just swat them aside and go on to the important stuff.

      • Trock

        Archboy, seriously... fat can only get on a human body at one entry point : the mouth. It doesn't leech into you from the furniture. Anyone who is fat, got that way from eating more food than they burn with acticity. Period. Longtime crack adicts are not fat, neither are concentration camp prisoners. Tell me which person in the Auchwitz photos was the one with thyroid condition where they just simply couldn't shed the pounds? Um... I can't find the fat guy in those pictures because they had scarce food supply. Bodies need nutrients and at least some activity. I can empathize with self harming overeaters just as much as i can empathize with smokers, heroin adicts or anyone else who just simply needs to stop the harmful behavior. But let's call it what it is.

        • Slim

          I am 49, 6'4", male, white, and 160 lbs. I am also an overeater. I tracked it once; I eat about 4,000 calories a day. I am an omnivore, eating meat every day. I am also a computer slug, getting VERY little exercise. I HAVE TRIED to gain weight. For most of my adult life. Just not happening. Trock, your simplistic theory simply does not explain my weight.

        • ArchiesBoy

          Thank God you are one of the few who know the way out of the problem. Why can't the rest of us just get that through our heads?

    • bigblackcat

      Haha! Fat hate. This is rich.

  • margaret wertheim

    Hi David - wonderful article. I'd read much before on the link between obesity and heat/light/plastic/chemicals, but not the brilliant critique of capitalism as a system. It gives a whole new meaning to the term "fat cats". Congratulations on a fine and much needed essay. Margaret Wertheim

  • melfromalice

    wow, a well written, thoroughly researched article. very refreshing.. I actually read an article on the internet and I don't feel like I have wasted my time.

  • nomoreporky

    I didn't really slim down until I stopped being afraid of carbs and embraced potatoes, rice, pasta and bread. Seriously! Thousands of people have lost significant numbers of pounds and improved their cholesterol and trigyciride counts by cutting out animal protein and eating starches. This is the right "fuel" for many successful civilizations—rice and Asians, potatoes and Peruvians, corn and Incas, wheat and Middle Easterners. It was royalty and big landowners who could afford animal fat, and they are the ones who got fat eating from the king's table. has loads of information about this and video testimonials from dozens of people who turned their lives (and their fat) around with a starch-based diet. Who knew?!

  • Lana

    I'm glad that we're seeing more people starting to look at a broader perspective on causes of obesity. One thing that I was surprised to find omitted from the article: changes in food. The wheat/corn/rice/chicken/etc that we eat nowadays is genetically very different than what we were eating forty or fifty years ago. Is it possible that we're putting on weight because of these differences in what is considered "food?"

    • oderb

      To support your argument take a look at 'Wheat Belly' by Dr. William Davis. The wheat we eat - and by we I mean essentially everyone in the world who eats wheat - is quite toxic and promotes weight gain.

  • Bev Tellin

    You have brilliantly articulated my own inchoate thoughts on the topic. When we have an epidemic, which obesity has become, it is specious to blame it on a mass breakdown in willpower. Your scientific curiosity sheds a bright light on a topic that needs to be opened up for discussion and analysis.

  • YouKnowMe

    "The problem with diets that are heavy in meat, fat or sugar is not
    solely that they pack a lot of calories into food; it is that they alter
    the biochemistry of fat storage and fat expenditure, tilting the body’s
    system in favour of fat storage. Wells notes, for example, that sugar,
    trans-fats and alcohol have all been linked to changes in ‘insulin
    signalling’, which affects how the body processes carbohydrates. . . . If candy’s chemistry tilts
    you toward fat, then the fact that you eat it at all may be as important
    as the amount of it you consume."

    Where is the evidence that a diet high in meat and fat and LOW IN SUGAR poses a problem? These articles are always putting meat and fat FIRST in their list of alleged detriments, but when you read on, it's always SUGAR that actually causes the changes in insulin signalling. There is no insulin spike in a high-fat moderate-protein low-carb meal that excludes sugar. That's why diabetics can often reduce or eliminate medication if they take up that way of eating.

    Furthermore, a recent worldwide meta-analysis of diet and obesity/diabetes/metabolic syndrome was made, and after controlling for factors like food availability, food types available, genomes, demographics, income, and gender . . .

    . . . the availability and consumption of SUGAR (not meat, not fat) was the determining factor in rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

    And since these conditions are precursors to heart and kidney disease and even cancer, it would seem disingenuous for this author to say, "meat, fat, OR sugar" as if all are equally culpable. THEY'RE NOT.

    Doubly ironic because this is an article about changing attitudes about calories, diet, and obesity!

    • HumanityBlows

      Everyone's an expert, but the obesity rate in WILD ANIMALS is going up, too. Durr hurr

    • Nat

      Thank you! I was waiting for someone to bring this up. I was an obese teenager and I decided in my early 20s that enough was enough, and started focusing on my diet and being more active. High fat, medium protein, and low carb (easy enough as I have a starch intolerance) did it for me. I'm now slim as they come. But the main factor - cutting right down on sugar. I even only eat fruit a couple times a week. Enough of this low fat stuff already. Compare most low fat products to full fat products and you'll notice the low fat varieties compensate with more sugar! even to this day I maintain my low sugar consumption and I maintain my weight just fine. I adhere to no more than 4g of sugar per 100g, and while it might sound like that's depriving yourself of occasional treats, it's really not. Shop around and you'll find stuff (plenty of chips) with low sugar content. Some makers of chocolates also have stevia-sweetened versions, which are much better. Having said all this, find what works for you. As I mentioned above, I have an intolerance to starch which affects my metabolism negatively. Try elimination diets to see if you have an intolerance to any/all/some of the top allergens (ie. gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, etc) that may affect your metabolic function.

    • Bernt

      Right on! Most of these comment arguments have already been very ably refuted by the research done by Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat, Good Calories, Bad Calories, etc. This article has many interesting points, but the "fat" issue seems to have been overlooked. Getting your calories from fat vs. sugars/carbs changes everything for the better. This assumes nutrient rich and grass-fed meats without hormones, etc, of course.

  • TheAnvil

    Articles like this are an excellent discussion about the epidemic of obesity in our society,a discussion we ought to be having. However, one of the elements of the issue I never see addressed in these articles in the fact there is a small sub-set of
    modern humanity that is the opposite of this problem - the ultra-fit. In fact,
    I would suggest that this sub-set are, as a group, more fit than any similar
    group of humanity in history.

    These groups of ultra-fit folks associate in communities like triathletes and runners (I’m part of the latter group). I see the same group of people at the frequent local running races, from people in their 20’s to their 80’s. Mostly they are trim and healthy. They train hard at their sport, and eat sensibly. I am constantly amazed at the physical skills of these people who, in their 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s can run and even compete against individuals sometimes 1/3rd (or less!) of their age.

    Less you think this group is somehow naturally advantaged, I started running in my early 40’s. I was overweight (BMI of 28) andcompletely out of shape – I couldn’t run a single city block. Years of training and better eating have me, at 47 years of age, with a BMI of 22. I completed dozens of races, often beating people half my age. Nothing about getting there has been easy, but it’s been quite rewarding.

    I think the success of the ultra-fit group needs to be equally examined in any discussion of our overall obesity problem. What worked for these folks? How can it be applied? Simply pretending that traditional solutions like exercise and diet “don’t work” is equally untrue to “one size fits all” solutions.

  • Adam Kosloff

    A lot to love about this article. Lines like these warm my heart:

    "Wells notes, for example, that sugar, trans-fats and alcohol have all
    been linked to changes in ‘insulin signalling’, which affects how the
    body processes carbohydrates. This might sound like a merely technical
    distinction. In fact, it’s a paradigm shift: if the problem isn’t the
    number of calories but rather biochemical influences on the body’s
    fat-making and fat-storage processes, then sheer quantity of food or
    drink are not the all-controlling determinants of weight gain. If
    candy’s chemistry tilts you toward fat, then the fact that you eat it at
    all may be as important as the amount of it you consume."

    As complex as the landscape may be, however, I believe there's one idea we can all embrace with a certainty approaching 100%, and that is the insight that the ubiquitous calorie counting model of why obesity occurs and what can be done to fix it is, at best, a major oversimplification. Here are 9 pictures that support one of Berreby's points -- that the way we think of obesity majorly oversimplifies the problem and does a disservice to dieters by blaming them for hormonal/metabolic issues that may be beyond their conscious ability to control:

  • JayMan

    I was looking forward to the article returning to the issue of lab animals. It seemed to be a doing a good job of critically evaluating each of these alternative explanations, but then it seemed to fall apart as it went. Most of the explanations it put forward cannot explain the increase in weight in lab animals, which would have been helpful for a convincing hypothesis.

    But, by putting forward all of these ideas – each of which having limited support themselves, what this article basically says is that we have no idea what causes obesity.

    It's worth going over what we do know. We do know that at any given time, variation in obesity is primarily heritable, with genetic differences between individuals being responsible for >80% of the variation on body weight (see All Human Behavioral Traits are Heritable | JayMan's Blog, Should Parents Lose Custody of Obese Kids? | JayMan's Blog, Genetics and the increase in obesity - Evolving Economics).

    However, this doesn't explain the rise in obesity over time, which is the issue this article meant to discuss. Genetic changes aren't responsible, since there hasn't been enough time for sufficient genetic changes to accrue.

    As this article makes abundantly clear, the true cause(s) for the rise in obesity is unknown. Several commenters on the matter have put forward ideas (including me – Fun Facts About Obesity | JayMan's Blog), but nothing has been established conclusively.

    We do know obesity is difficult to treat, and indeed, impossible to do so on a societal level (as all comprehensive study on the matter have shown poor long-term outcomes of weight loss efforts) – at least for now.

    But we also need to be clear on the true problems this poses (beyond aesthetic ones). For one, it's important to point out that we in the Anglosphere assume that everyone in the (developed) world struggles with obesity, partly because the coverage of the matter that saturates the media implies this. But no, it turns out obesity affects the wealthy world very unevenly. Anglos (folks of British extraction) are much more heavily affected than most Western Europeans, who themselves much more affected than Eastern Europeans, who are more affected than East Asians (see A Fat World – With a Fat Secret? | JayMan's Blog). As well, we are led to believe that obesity is heavily related to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and death from such. When in reality, the relationship between CVD and obesity is largely the exact inverse of the above pattern (see the previous link and also see And Yet Another Tale of Two Maps | JayMan's Blog).

    Even within a society, we are told obesity leads to "early" death. In reality, this doesn't appear to be so simple. Beyond the simple problem of establishing causation – which is generally very difficult – we have to look at other correlates.

    Turns out obesity is negatively correlated with IQ. Lower-IQ people tend to be fatter and vice versa. This is true even after controlling for education and socioeconomic status. It is not poverty or education that creates the relationship; this is a true deep connection between the two variables (see Obesity and IQ | JayMan's Blog).

    Going a step further, it is known that IQ is strongly associated with lifespan. That is, higher IQ people live longer than lower IQ people, with the latter dying of all manner of causes much sooner than the former (with the exception of cancer). What do you get when you put the two together? That's right, the association between obesity and "early" death could be entirely a result of the association between obesity and IQ. Indeed, at least one study that controlled for IQ found that less than 10% of the variation in lifespan remained affected by body weight. See (IQ and Death | JayMan's Blog).

    It's also worth noting that interventions aimed at improving lifestyle habits generally fail to reduce CVD death rates (with perhaps the exception of the "Mediterranean diet" study which has been criticized).

    This is actually an open field of study that remains highly mysterious, where solid answers are greatly desired due to the obvious public fascination with the topic.

  • Ellen K

    The bottom line is that if we taken in more calories than we expend, we gain weight. When I was a child fifty years ago, we played outside all day, every day, all summer long. And that was during the same hot Texas summer we experience now. We played on shady porches or strung up blankets to make sunshades and tents. Now, except for the expensive confines of organized sports team it is rare to see an unsupervised child playing outside. In a similar manner active movements of spontaneous play have be eliminated from schools. This absolutely ignores the biological need for children to play actively and learn through that activity.

    I am no stranger to weight issues. As a middle aged woman I feel as if I have been on a diet most of my life. I do think there are environmental issues at play in some of this. I think replacing sugar and honey with corn ethanol-which is metabolized differently-is one factor. The addition of fluoride, which gave us nice teeth, many have also set off a series of low functioning thyroids, especially in women of a certain age. And then there's the frantic pace of life itself. I hear young working people who are proud they can't cook or don't cook. Not only is cooking at home less costly, it is healthier because you can choose to limit or amend your diet as needed. The bottom line is the place of fastfood in our lives. I am not going to say that fastfood itself is the culprit, but the selection of unhealthy fast food is the problem. You can't dine on burgers and fries and soda every day and expect to stay healthy even if you are a teen athlete. Perhaps it is time for us all to slow down, stop looking for the easiest solution and start expecting more from ourselves.

  • WithheldName

    It's REAL SIMPLE. I see fat working-class kids who play outdoors all day long, and I see skinny upper-middle-class kids sitting around the house in front of electronic devices all day. What's the secret? ORGANIC FOODS versus processed foods. Processed foods are loaded with junk that makes you obese. Organic foods aren't. That's it. That's the one thing you can do to solve the problem.

  • Sara Chapman in Seattle, USA

    There are other factors. What about the huge increase in radiation and invisible "rays" of cellphones, broadcasting, radar, and the like? There is no place on earth to escape these forces which travel through our bodies all the time. They are supposed to be completely safe and without effects, but I wonder.

    Another key factor is the rape of food. Absolutely the money motive, or capitalism, is responsible for the almost total replacement of whole grains and foods made with them by empty white flour, because whole grains have actual live food content and will spoil, whereas refined flours have far longer shelf lives, i.e., profit. This pattern is repeated endlessly, where artificial ingredients flavored with chemicals are called food, and laden with the sweet, salty, and fat tastes we are hardwired to prefer. It's not just the monstrously inflated portion sizes, but the fact that the "food" they contain can never promote health.

  • Sara Chapman in Seattle, USA

    Plus, in America at least, there is a schizophrenic relationship with food. I marvel at the checkout counter magazines which predictably have articles about losing weight and giant desserts on the cover. Do you think perhaps a slight disconnect here?

    And I had an experience in Europe about 10 years ago which taught me a lot about weight. In northern Italy, everyone was slim, even the old folks. I could see that portion size was teensy (a muffin was 1950s size, about 2.5 inches) with vegetables at a meal, and there was NO snack food available, even in grocery stores. No bags of chips! No candy bars! And everyone walked a lot, and far. Then I took a train 50 miles over the Alps to Austria. A restaurant served me weinerschnitzel which was a fried meat thing with a plate of gravy on it, and nothing else. Desserts were enormous. And all the people looked like Americans: fat. I finally took some responsibility for my weight and began to lose the extra 20 or 30 lbs that had dogged me for years. Before then I had told myself it was my genetic stocky build. After seeing the vast difference in cultural food norms, I realized that if you eat and exercise properly, you will not be fat.

    • SoSueMe

      Sigh. I am close to 50 lbs over weight. I am physically active and HEALTHY. I also have not eaten one single bite of food that has added sugar or sugar substitutes in 13 years. I don't eat meat. I don't eat dairy. I don't eat bread. I don't eat processed foods. 99% of my diet is organic vegetables, brown rice, and legumes. I have struggled with my weight since earliest childhood and was constantly shamed to believe that "if you eat and exercise properly, you will not be fat," even though everyone else in the family, eating exactly the same foods, did not share my weight issues. THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE GOING ON HERE. Was it the DES my mother took when pregnant with me? Possibly. There has been a direct link shown between hormone disruptor exposure in the womb and obesity. Just google "DES" and "Obesity". What really needs to change is the prevalent attitude of shaming people who are overweight. If you haven't lived it, you really have no idea how destructive it is.

      • Bernt

        Sue: try a high fat/low carb alternative.You're being given bad advice and you're behaving "personally responsible" by following it. Obesity is your reward, sorry.

  • Lisa

    Many people are having children that might have died a century ago..diabetes and other disorders are passed down..what about chlorine and fluoride in water and how the thyroid reacts to corn, soy, etc., there are hundreds of endocrine disrupting chemicals in our environment,,I guess all you can do is try to eat a healthy diet w/o processed food, keep as active as possible, and follow the latest research. It is sad to see so many young people overweight..they were the exception not the rule and they're going to have a tough road ahead of them.

  • wrcmontreal

    The debate over human fate has been predicated on the dichotomy of determinism (darkness) and free will (the light) for centuries if not millennia. I see this article as playing on this paradigm. I believe that we can only have hope that we are responsible for our destiny, because the contrary is nothing short of soul destroying.

    With regards to this issue specifically, I discovered these last couple of years that if you can't enjoy your body - the exhilaration of pushing yourself physically - you are missing out on an essential part of the human experience. I hope that everyone who hasn't received a *personal* medical diagnosis to the contrary can experience what I am experiencing.

  • Skeptical

    So, let's say you get off the phone with your mom who was starving when she had you and you sit down to a dinner of industrial chemicals with a BPA spoon and an organotin fork and you leave the lights on all night, are you saying that you will get fat without eating calories? Are you saying you won't get skinny by eating vastly fewer?

    The problem with this article is that, sure, maybe lots of things contribute to obesity, but you can't get fat without calories and you will get skinny with fewer calories. Some groups hate personal responsibility and love "sweep of history" theories because, to quote the scholar Howard Jones, "no one ever is to blame."

    Anyway, tell Russia and the Ukraine and China and Cuba and North Korea how capitalism leads to famine and poor nourishment. I'm sure they'll be amused.

    • EricaSalvia

      "Some groups hate personal responsibility and love "sweep of history" theories because, to quote the scholar Howard Jones, 'no one ever is to blame.' "

      Um, no, in NO way is this article saying no one is to blame. Whole societies are to blame for being structured in a way that promotes obesity.

      Some groups hate personal responsibility and want to scapegoat only the people who suffer the ill effects of a cultural problem, instead of taking equal responsibility as a part of that culture.

  • HumanityBlows

    Haha, all the "this diet/lifestyle worked for meeee" commenting on this thread. You still can't take the smug arrogance out of the 5 percent who lost weight and kept it off. Maybe your bodies are designed that way... maybe we need to cut the fat stigma. Maybe we needed to pay more attention to this article, because then we read further "it's what you eat and how you don't move." You didn't understand the research at all, did you? Most of you probably didn't have the attention span nor the intelligence to read the entire thing. Just here to troll about fat.


    only the patient can solve his/her obesity problem
    the disease is solely a function of the actions of the diseased
    and only the diseased can solve his problem

  • djc263

    Very poor writing, the poverty piece was almost completely a constructed straw man. In order for that to be at all complicated, you have to assume that personal responsibility has nothing to do with wealth. Anyone else catch on to that ridiculous assumption? Without that assumption obesity and poverty have a shared cause, and would have to correlate. Occums razor can cut this to pieces.

  • Pronghorn

    Even if there is *something* going on that affects weight, in the end, anyone can lose weight by eating less, moving more. If you are ingesting fewer calories than you are burning through metabolism and activity, weight goes down. Works every time.

  • Zachary Stansfield

    In your efforts to write a convincing essay, Mr. Barreby,
    you’ve managed to run roughshod over the public debate regarding the causes of obesity, while stringing together a laundry list of alternatives spanning everything
    from the possible (e.g. endocrine disrupters like BPA) to the inane (e.g.
    virally-induced obesity).

    The main confusion here is where you conflate “lack of
    willpower” with “overconsumption of calories”. In the public sphere, perhaps
    these two ideas are not well-distinguished, but in reality they are two
    distinct arguments. There is no scientific basis to state that obesity is due
    to a lack of willpower—it is simply an untested assumption that many people
    (even public officials) make. In contrast, obesity is very strongly correlated
    with the amount of calories that a person consumes.

    Thus, contrary to your thesis—which asserts that public efforts
    to reduce calorie consumption are secretly initiatives to blame obesity on a
    lack of willpower—most public efforts are literally just aimed at cutting back
    on how many calories people eat. If caloric over-consumption is a major cause
    of obesity, then these policies may have a shot at working, regardless of
    whether or not “willpower” matters.

    In fact, you even blatantly mischaracterize this common rhetoric. You state that “we appear to have a public consensus that excess body weight... and obesity… are consequences of individual choice” and that “public health agencies … are quick to assure us … that obesity is caused by individual choices”. But you provide varied and inconsistent evidence. As “Michael Bloomberg, recently put it… ‘If you take in more than you use, you store it.’” In fact, this “thermodynamics argument” is not about willpower! (Although, it is a little known fact that the 4th law of thermodynamics deals with how willpower can actually decrease entropy… Mind-blowing, I know).

    Moreover, by completely mistaking the purpose of currently policies, you also manage to dismiss the implications of the strong correlation between obesity and caloric consumption (i.e. the default model, which you appear to disdain so much). There are at least two ways to explain this correlation:

    When people eat too many calories, they store
    more fat and become obese

    People start storing too much fat (many possible
    causes), which necessitates that their bodies consume more calories

    More likely, the truth probably includes some combination of
    the above. We know, for example, that when people reduce calorie intake they metabolize fat stores and lose weight (not indefinitely, just until their bodies reach something like an equilibrium at the new level of intake) and when they increase calorie intake, fat storage increases (again, until a relative equilibrium is reached).

    On the other hand, even given this logic, it still follows that a person who is, for example, undergoing chronic stress might endure an increased rate of fat storage, which might shift his body towards increased hunger and caloric consumption (thus, overall weight gain). Other, non-caloric factors might produce similar effects.

    Notice how these positions are not mutually exclusive and nor do they directly conflict with many (but probably not all) public policies. Yes, maybe there are unknown causes that we need to worry about, but if we don't have adequate responses to meet these unknowns, then cutting back on total calories is still the best strategy that we have.

  • herb

    Maybe it's that we no longer eat cyclically, ie with the seasons. There is reseach popping up showing that different season's foods have different effects on the body. One season will cause you to store fat and another will cause you to use it.

  • Jeff Blanks

    Look, folks, if you wanna say YOU'RE FAT BECAUSE YOU SUCK AND NEED YOUR ASS KICKED AND I'M THE ONE TO DO IT just come out and say so and spare us the pretty language.

  • GOD

    You people are all so stupid. Cars are good so good that they are all deafied "o" the great Car Gods do no wrong but make thousands of pounds of poision to put in to the air. You breath this crap your children breath it all the poor animals breath the damn gas fumes from your car ya YOU do it. God is punishing all of us now we all have to take our fair share or this poision in to our bodies. Along with all the other 65 trillion tons of other chemicals poured in to the air every day of every year. Welcome to the future gentalmen it's mutantal freak time have fun now have a nice day

  • SanLouisKid

    Watching a basic training film from WWII, I was amazed at how thin all the recruits were. Not just trim, but very thin. As a child my Mom was concerned I was too thin and started after school snack therapy to help me gain weight. It worked. Very well. Today I have to watch everything I eat, every day. I could put 10 or 20 pounds on in a year if I didn't monitor things closely. My wife and I order set, smaller portions in the restaurants we visit. A hassle? Sure, but it beats being too heavy and miserable. Obviously some of the posters here are watching everything they eat too (by the way, great overall discussion on this article) and I'm sure they are as amazed as I am how many calories we can so easily pick up during the day without even trying. Personally, I equate it to money management too. Most people don't want to track what they spend (or eat) to see how it impacts them. It's too much work, but there is a nice payoff.

  • Worms

    What about the lack of intestinal parasites? I know it's gross but it's a fact that these are far less common that they used to be.

  • Groodle

    Cut all gluten sources entirely (no bread, pasta, tortillas, etc). Cut processed sugars mostly. Cut juice mostly. Cut carbs significantly.

    Focus on lean meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables, and the rest will just fall into place. Do this and you NEVER need to count calories. Just eat when you're hungry, but stick with REAL FOOD, not grains, legumes, and dairy!

    See how simple that is?

    Everyone I know of who has done any of the variations of the Paleo plan has lost weight and gotten lean. It's no coincidence. People are fat because they're eating BAD foods, but the so-called experts don't know what bad foods are. They haven't a clue! They'll tell you with a straight face to cut back on meats, fats, and alcohol, and to increase your "whole grain" and "dairy" intake. They'll advocate a big bowl of lentil soup, with a side of whole grain toast and a glass of milk and advocate against a steak, broccoli, and a couple of glass of red wine. NOTHING could be farther from the truth! It's a crime against humanity to preach this crap. If you're overweight, don't write about nutrition. You don't know what you're saying, and it's damaging to others.

    This author simply doesn't get it. He's reaching for something that isn't there, but touching on some truths along the way. Clumping meat/fat/alcohol together with carbohydrates/sugar shows a certain level of ignorance bordering on criminal, given the evidence that's currently available. Meat, fat, and alcohol don't cause weight gain for crying out loud. Carbs and sugar do! He's also way overstating the case against stress, sleep loss, etc, and just searching for magic bullets everywhere. Get a clue! None of those things make as much difference as the composition of your food. You're body simply isn't built to process grains, legumes, or dairy. These screw up your metabolism. You're body is built to process vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, etc. REAL FOOD.

    • Another Brad

      Agree, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with fatty meat either.

      • Tom Linscott

        True, as long as the animal only fed on grass and non-GMO grains.

  • bigblackcat

    The people who say they've "tried everything" or list their calorie counts, I bet they sneak ice cream, eat themselves some hot dogs and french fries, etc. I've never met an obese person who ACTUALLY eats well. When I do, when I have an actual, visible example of it, other than someone typing about how healthy they eat and just can't lose the weight on the INTERNET, then I'll believe you.

    If you're over-weight and happy with your body, I'm glad for you. Your weight doesn't offend me, and I don't care about you being over-weight. It's your body, do what you want. But if you're going to tell me you live a "healthy" life-style full of good, nutritious foods (with lots of fruits and veggies and little sweets) and exercise, I'm going to call bullshit.

    I like how the article addresses how "not all calories are created equal." I've been saying that for years. If your calorie counts consist of ice cream, chips, and whatever other nasty food you buy from the snack section at walmart, it's no wonder you aren't losing weight.

  • Derek

    This is simply a justification for unhealthy habits and the lack of observance of one's body, plain and simple. Scientists go hunting for reasons why people are fat. Without so much as a bathroom scale, I can tell when I've gained too much weight and readily adjust the combination of food I'm eating. I step up the exercise to balance things. I switched from cheeseburgers to hamburgers, cut out milkshakes in favor of lemonade, drink water instead of soda, swap a side salad in place where fries would have been offered at a restaurant. And other than that I generally eat what I want and keep balance. I never go to the gym; instead, I routinely practice chinese martial arts and burn calories using my own body weight.

    Healthy humans should generally be fatter than how hollywood and fashion magazines portray them. Photographs are edited to slim down women's arms, waist and legs. Models and actresses starve themselves and this "look" has become the established norm over the last 50 years (since Twiggy). In contrast, the Renaissance era showed plenty of plump, happy people.

    That said, the availability of fast food, along with low nutrition and yes, a general lack of willpower for people to exercise, has led to an overweight society. Our bodies were meant to work physically and mentally. The United States is a service-oriented culture, and manual labor (requiring physical strength) has been moved off to other parts of the world, where the people remain in better shape.

    There are also a range of problems associated with being too thin. Both my wife and mother have trouble keeping their weight up. But the overarching problem with obesity is the amount of work the heart is doing to pump blood throughout the body, and the additional stress on the body's joints and spine. Exercise and a balanced diet doesn't mean "be skinny", it just means "be healthy". Too often, being thin is associated with being healthy, but that's not always the case.

    The research in itself is of little use if it just gives obese people an excuse to stop moving and paying attention to their diet. No matter what the research reveals, a healthy, balanced lifestyle with a little extra fat on our bones is better than the chronic problem that exists now.

    • Dion Kerfont

      Diet is actually 80% - 90% of the equation... you can't out-exercise a bad diet. Even if you maintain what's considered a "healthy" weight through exercise, you can still be doing a lot of damage where it can't be seen.

      The right kind of exercise is important. Weight training will help you become more insulin sensitive and help get rid of stubborn fat. Cardio does very little to burn fat and increases stress... especially if you're obese to begin with.

  • Bryan Travis

    H/T to Instapundit, and pace just about the entire medical establishment, one big thing lab animals probably have in common with humans is an increased ratio of carbohydrate calories to total calories in their diet. That increases insulin production, a naturally produced hormone which causes fat storage.

    Another thing that is likely new, and even with lab animals where you could possibly control for carbohydrate consumption, is very probably a big increase in consumption of calories from cheap newfangled vegetable oils that are loaded with precursors to inflammatory compounds. Soy oil, "canola" oil, and that good old wholesome corn oil with the native american indian imagery that came with it.

    Newsflash for the author, insulin spikes from ingesting high glycemic index foods, such as anything made from whole wheat(oops), also upregulate the production of the worst inflammatory signalling compounds out of the raw material supplied by the new to the world cheap vegetable oils. This is chronically bad for all sorts of tissues, not just fat cells.

    Want to avoid being fat, having type II diabetes, circulatory diseases? Eat more animal fat, as millions of years of evolution before agriculture came into existence designed our bodies to do so well. Go paleo. Don't eat wheat, non-GMO or otherwise. In the form of bread, it is a blood sugar spiking WMD non-pareil, outranking even table sugar in glycemic index. Throw out your food industry sponsored politically created "Dietary Guidelines for the United States." It wrecks your life, and the lives of your loved ones, and harms your country.

    • Bernt

      Absolutely spot-on Bryan! This article was interesting, and on the whole rather fair in that he seemed to want to explore every possible reason for the weight gain, except that he skipped right over the conventional wisdom that fat makes you fat without researching the mountains of evidence to the contrary. It reminds me of the Cheerio ads that claim to be "part of a heart-healthy" diet simply because the cereal contains fiber! No amount of fiber mixed into those complex carbs and sugars points to an overall healthy product. The willingness of the mainstream medical community to go along with the food industry's continued spinning of bad advice blows me away. Every since the Atkins diet was gang ambushed by the money'd interests that produce our junk aka food, very few in the medical field have been willing to debunk the "Dietary Guidelines". After all, if a large clinical study on high carb diet outcomes were to be funded, who would grant the funding? Not Monsanto, nor General Mills, nor Kelloggs, nor ADM for heaven's sake to mention only a few. Modern diseases are a product of modern foods to a great extent. Those who really have weight and health issues should explore some Paleo proponents such as Gary Taubes and Mark Sisson.

  • tmitsss

    Plants are growing faster and greener too. Must be the CO2.

  • rouxdsla

    I think nature is readying us for the coming ice age.

  • Walter Guyll

    Has someone blamed the Koch brothers yet?

  • Joel Emmett

    FWIW, as near as I can tell, the body doesn't really make many mistakes. They've worked pretty well for millenia. So our bodies may think something is going on, and from that assumption causing obesity, which we consciously don't realize, or agree with, or may be based on assumptions that no longer pertain to modern lifestyles.

    I suspect that what our bodies are trying to decide is, in simple terms, this: Am I a farmer? Or am I a hunter-gatherer?

    1. If I am a farmer, then I will be eating plenty of different healthy foods, which are readily available. So I will eat mostly early in the day, chew slower, eat healthily, etc. So the body doesn't hang on to calories for dear life.

    2. If I am a hunter-gatherer, then I need to hang on to calories for dear life. Food is scarce, and when available, may be unreliable nutritionally. The body decides this because we eat irregularly, eat low quality foods, tend to skip meals often, eat late in the day, gobble down food quickly when we have it, or any number of a range of other behaviors.

    So one of the reasons why causes of obesity may be difficult to pin down, is because the body isn't regulating itself on a few behaviors. It is regulating our fat retention, etc., on a principle, based on whether we are one of the two historical groups which has dominated human life for millenia.

  • psychdr

    There is an interesting idea about animal weight gain in a book called Sleep Starved:

    Addressing the chimpanzee weight gain in particular- it notes that captive chimpanzees sleep a lot less (4 hours or so) nowadays compared to their counterparts in 70s and 80s. The book also cites all the evidence that sleep deprivation has a cause-and-effect influence on human obesity and insulin resistance (and appetite).

    It theorized that domestic animals are getting their sleep cut short by the same long workdays, light pollution and noise pollution that effects us. The references are the book. It makes a good argument that industrialization leads to sleep deprivation which leads to obesity. So it is not just calories in/out: it's about metabolism. Which makes sense.

  • tbrookside

    Yup, it's GOT to be evil chemicals in the air making people fat.

    Strangely, those evil chemicals have yet to catch up to me.

    How could this be?

    Sorry, not buying it. Even if evil chemicals are changing your metabolism, all that means is that you no longer need to eat as many calories as you used to, and should adjust your intake accordingly. You can't hand-wave at thermodynamics by pleading biochemistry. No matter what happens to your biochemistry, to gain weight you still have to take in more calories than your body burns.

    And yeah, sure, poor people are fat because of "stress". Sure. It couldn't possibly be that (in America, at least) poverty tracks very closely to stupidity, laziness, and poor impulse control - three things that track to obesity. Nope, that can't be it.

    • Dion Kerfont

      The first law of thermodynamics works great for CLOSED systems. The problem is, our bodies are NOT closed systems. Calories in and calories out are independent variables affected by a lot more factors than simply whether you exercise or not. The second law of thermodynamics applies more to human metabolism than the first.

      You just keep repeating the mantra over and over without any thought as to the WHY. Why are people eating more calories than they are using? What mechanism is at work? Why can someone eat whatever they want and stay thin and why do others struggle? I don't buy the lazy / sloth explanation at all... because I've lost 60 pounds without increasing my physical activity. All I did was change what I ate... creating a hormonal balance that allows me to access my fat stores instead of cutting them off or making them larger.

      I get it that calories in / calories out is a nice, simple explanation that everyone likes because it's... well... simple. It's NOT that simple... and more of the same BS that you spout won't do anything to change that.

  • tbrookside

    In any event, I don't give a damn and am not willing to accept any change in public policy that restricts food choice. I'll actively seek to undermine any attempt to enact such a policy.

    I eat whatever I want. I'm still thin. I have low BP, low cholesterol.

    My kid eats whatever he wants. He's thin too.

    The idea that he and I should be restricted in the food we're allowed to buy, and that McDonald's should be restricted in the food they're allowed to market and sell, because a bunch of genetic defectives can't control themselves is so patently and obviously an absurdity that I'm happy to put my foot through the bottom of your bucket.

  • D.49

    Since lab animals, domestic cats and dogs, marmosets, chimps, domestic and feral rats, etc. are ALL getting fatter, then there is a mechanism at work that is outside of the food industry, politics and economics. Could it be something like EMF, electro-magnetic radiation, that is flowing invisibly through ALL of us at an ever increasing rate from cell phones, computers and microwave towers, affecting, maybe, our thyroid glands and our metablolism?

  • Eli

    Incredibly not a single word on Gary Taubs's "Good Calories Bad calories"

    • Bernt

      Had I seen this article a month ago like you all, I would have mentioned Gary at that time. It's amazing the number of people who continue to argue the calorie in vs. calorie out "thermodynamic" mantra. Gary makes an exhaustive case to debunk all that. Those who are willing to revisit their conclusions should consider listening to those of Gary Taubes and Dr. Peter Attia.

  • brendo

    Are we unfairly labeling Capitalism here?
    In a Free Market, the farmer has the option to sell whatever he would like, to whomever he chooses, at a price dictated by the demand. It doesn't sound like the "enterprising", "capitalist" British GOVERNMENT left those farmers much choice.
    Associating government-sponsored Imperialism and the subjugation of an entire people to the Free Market system is a contradiction in itself.

    Seems like a moot point, but the language used in media nowadays is wildly inaccurate. Not by accident.


  • Denise Evans

    Occurs across multiple species, even lab animals with carefully controlled diets. Makes you wonder if the antibacterial fad has caused the death of massive numbers of beneficial gut bacteria - which WOULD affect lab animals in their near-sterile environs. I want to see much more work done in this area.

  • jin choung


    just GET A FAT PERSON AND COUNT HIS CALORIES FOR ONE DAY!!!! YOU HAVE YOUR ANSWER!!! this kind of article is exactly the WRONG information people need to hear because it is SOOOooooooo misguided!

    animals are getting fatter? great, that's a DIFFERENT ISSUE. don't track THEIR calories, just grab a random fat person off the street and track what they eat!

    srsly, it's calories. that's it. everything else, protein vs. fat vs. carbs whatever MAY count when we're talking about elite athletes or people who are already slim as it pertains to the last 2 lbs or something.

    but for the VAST MAJORITY OF THE FAT WORLD, all they need to do is EAT LESS PERIOD!!!

    so what is your ideal weight? take that number, multiply by 12. that is the amount of calories you are allowed to eat a day.

    if you are AT that weight, you will maintain. if you are more, you will gradually reduce until you hit that weight. if you eat less, you will reduce weight till you hit a LOWER EQUILIBRIUM WEIGHT.

    seriously people, you can't gain weight MAGICALLY out of FAT AIR! if there's not enough substance coming IN, you can't accrue substance on your frame! bloomberg is absolutely right.

    and why is it sooo difficult for this study to have simply tracked the amount of calories someone eats? why is that so hard?

    because people are desperate - DESPERATE - to find a scapegoat so they can blame it one something else.

    but just count the calories. for every fat person that reads this article, just count the calories that you average in a day and divide by 12. THAT'S why you're fat.

    • Another Brad


    • SoSueMe

      You are wrong. And you obviously haven't lived it. But I can tell my all the CAPS that there is no use trying to convince you otherwise.

      • jin choung

        i promise you. take ANY fat person on earth and record nothing but:

        - height
        - weight
        - daily caloric intake

        it will be abundantly clear why they are fat. ANY fat person.

        • SoSueMe

          The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.
          ~Bertrand Russell~

          • jin choung

            just shut up and do it.

            track calories for a fat person. prove me wrong.

          • SoSueMe

            I don't have to do that, Jin...I have been living it for well over four decades. I don't eat meat, dairy, processed foods, wheat, corn, sugar or sugar substitutes. I drink black tea and water. At one time I could maintain a weight of about 145 (20+ lbs over what is recommended for my height) if I kept my calories under 1000/day and got in a good 6+ hours of hard cardio/week. I have logged so many miles on the road and elliptical machine that I've done irreparable damage to my knees and hips. If I ate 1740 calories a day as you suggest, I would probably weigh about 250.

            It is a real challenge to achieve adequate nutrition while keeping calories so low, so managing your weight becomes a constant focus. At a certain point you realize that it is adding incredible stress to your life and that there are other things that are more important. I have raised three children and have needed to put energy into them, my marriage, my work, my art. I could not maintain that austere lifestyle, especially after my joints wore down. Now my diet consists almost entirely of vegetables, brown rice, oatmeal, legumes, and small amounts of nuts and fruit. My intake averages about 1200/day. I swim 3 miles a week. And I'm 50 lbs overweight.

            The irony here is that throughout my entire life I have faced disapproval from ardent "believers" like you (including members of my own family), EXCEPT when I was actively engaged in eating disorders and excessive exercise, which, so great was the pressure to be slender, I did throughout much of my 20's and 30' if those behaviors are worthy of praise. I was even disapproved of as a very young child, when I was the only overweight member of my family, even as I had no control over acquiring food, but ate the same foods as everyone else in the reduced quantities I was provided. You clearly have absolutely NO IDEA how this issue takes over your life, how much energy is wasted on worrying about every bite of food you take into your body and how you are going to burn it off. Now, I was also the only member of my family who was exposed to DES in utero, but of course we shouldn't consider that perhaps that has something to do with it, regardless of the numerous studies linking fetal exposure to endocrine disruptors and obesity, because it's all about TRACKING CALORIES. Nevermind that you can take a DES exposed mouse and in it will be twice the size of a non-exposed mouse, regardless of identical diet and exercise. Nevermind, because it's all about TRACKING CALORIES.

            I am not the only one who is living this life. Obesity rates have increased as our environment has become awash in chemicals, including estrogen mimics and multiple endocrine disruptors. Your (and countless others') stubborn adherence to your belief about what is making people fat does not make it true or move us closer to real answers, but it does make it harder and more painful for people like me. You should feel grateful that things work as they are supposed to work for you, at least weight-wise. I know that I certainly would feel grateful if that had been the condition I were lucky enough to be born into.

          • jin choung

            ok, if it were up to me, i would round people like you up into a lab so i could personally monitor what you're eating and how you're behaving day in and day out, weigh you every day for a month so we can get rid of all the myths once and for all.

            i don't hold to the view that i do because of some kind of mean streak.

            fact is, what you're telling me is that a car that has no fuel not only keeps going but is gaining extra cans of fuel that materialize into the trunk.

            here are the indisputable facts according to PHYSICS:

            - life takes energy. you cannot live, your biological processes cannot function, without fuel. that means that just the fact that you're alive requires a minimum number of calories to maintain that life.

            - if you do not have those calories, your body breaks down fat into fuel. if you do not have fat, it will start metabolizing muscle. do that for too long and you're dead.

            - this is where height comes in - the more height you have, the more of you there is. the more of you there is, the more calories you need to keep all that stuff alive. so the relationship between height and ideal weight comes in here.

            - all of what we've said so far is describing minimum number of calories for someone who is sedentary. if you add normal every day physical activity into the mix, your calorie requirement goes up to fuel that activity.


            why it's hard to believe you and people like you-

            **what part of the above does not apply to you? **

            it must be that:

            - your body functions without using any calories. it runs on magic. unlike other people whose heart, liver, kidneys, brains, bowels, etc. need to burn calories in order to stay alive and kicking, yours is powered by the aether.
            - since your body, organs and all, are powered by aether, everything you eat is considered surplus and goes to storage as fat.


            what else could it possibly be?

            no matter what chemicals you are exposed to your organs ARE ALIVE. they need fuel to remain so. work TAKES ENERGY and simply things like taking a stroll needs calories.

            are you missing large portions of your body? are you bed ridden or in a near coma like state so that your metabolism has slowed way way down (and therefore are incapable of normal, ambulatory life)?

            you, and people like you are saying that physics does not apply to you. but that is simply not possible.

            so then the more logical explanation is that you're not calculating your caloric intake properly. that you're eating far more calories than you think you are or that you're cheating with gigantic cookies and cakes in bed and for some reason can't own up to that in public. are you "sleep eating"? so you not count snacks?

            heck you could be overeating fruits and vegetables. are you eating 3000 calories worth of oranges?

            and just as a tangential FYI question - how much snack food is in the house right now? cakes, cookies, candies, chocolates, crackers, whatever... if the answer is something other than none of the above, my eyebrows raise in suspicion.

            if i were you, i would, just for the sake of intellectual curiosity start playing with my food intake until weight started dropping - even if you only attained it for a week. "body hack" to figure out what is going on.

            see how low you would have to go before you got to your ideal weight.

            JUST to prove the physics out.

            if you found that you have to eat 20 calories a day to attain and stay at your ideal weight - that would be useful and interesting information to find.

            at that point, we can start looking for where the "magic" is coming from.
            you have nothing to prove to me. i'm nobody to you. and hell, if you want to overweight, that's your prerogative too.

            but frankly - yeah. i DO have a problem believing your story and i DO think that human error or weakness is more likely the problem rather than a break down in the fundamental laws of the universe.

          • SoSueMe

            And so we come full circle back to my initial post to you: You are wrong. And you obviously haven't lived it. But I can tell my all the CAPS that there is no use trying to convince you otherwise.

            So here's my final word on it before I leave this discussion:

            Your rigid thinking is incredibly self-limiting. Because you don't understand something, it must be "magic" and therefore doesn't exist. My lifelong experience with the issue is meaningless, because you have not dealt with the same issue, so therefore it can not be real.

            You have convinced yourself beyond reach that this is all about your fixed understanding of how PHYSICS plays into the issue, when actually it is much more complex than that. Your tunnel vision prevents you from seeing the big picture.




            Regardless of the state of your eyebrows, there are ZERO cakes, chips, cookies, candies, crackers in my diet. None. Nada. Zip. Asleep or awake. No birthday cakes; no soft serve cones with friends on a hot summer evening; no Lays and dip in front of the TV with my family; not one single donut, cruller, danish, eclair; not one single fig newton, oreo, chocolate chip, shortbread or molasses cookie; not a breath mint; not even a bite of cake at my daughter's wedding. Since 2001. Number of times I have eaten at a fast food restaurant in the past ten years: ZERO TIMES. That reality is not the slightest bit affected by your incredulity.

            The fact is, I CAN lose weight. I just have to abuse myself to do it. What it takes to reduce my weight down to a "normal" level requires sacrificing my health. Which is just plain stupid. Due to factors BEYOND MY CONTROL (some of which you may find in the peer reviewed scientific literature referenced above), my body is programmed to be obese. As hard as that is for you to accept.

            Is it magic? Well maybe, but more likely it's SOMETHING THAT IS NOT YET FULLY UNDERSTOOD. At least by you. And your refusal to allow in information that conflicts with your beliefs only impedes your understanding. Wondering in what other ways this rigidity of thought affects your life.

  • Elspeth Parris

    Fascinating. I've no idea of the truth of it but I know that I gain huge amounts of weight when I try to stop smoking (that's a big, and usually un-mentioned cause of obesity) and I only lose weight when my stress levels drop for a while. I don't deliberately change my eating patterns in either case though I generally try to restrict my sugar intake.

  • Mark Cancellieri

    This is an interesting article, but I think it *seriously* overestimates the impact of factors other than personal responsibility (or at least *implies* an overestimate). Our behavior has a *massive* impact on our fat levels. That much is ridiculously obvious. Individuals growing up in identical environments often show huge differences in fat levels, and individuals over time show changes in fat levels as they vary their behavior. I am currently dealing with this. When I go through periods where I eat a lot of ice cream, visit the vending machine at work, and otherwise eat junk food, I gain weight. When I avoid highly processed foods and get to eating food that is closer to the way it's found in nature, I lose weight. I don't think that *anyone* is shocked by this.

    We shouldn't ignore things like epigenetics, chemicals in the environment, and other such factors, but we really need to prioritize the main factors causing obesity. The biggest factor should come as no surprise -- what we eat. The calorie/thermodynamic theory of weight gain needs to die quickly. It is obviously flawed. Diets with equal calories but varying amounts of macronutrients have varying impacts on fat levels. As the article touched on, different foods have different effects on the body's hormonal signaling. Even artificial sweeteners have an impact on insulin sensitivity, despite the fact that they have no calories.

    The most obvious shift in our diets over the last century or so has been a huge increase in sugar consumption and the consumption of highly processed carbohydrates. High-fructose corn syrup has been especially problematic over the last few decades. Sugar and processed carbohydrates wreak havoc with hormonal signaling, especially insulin.

    Rather than dismiss or downplay personal responsibility, we need to embrace it even more strongly because it is the most important factor in obesity. The goal should be to help people change their behavior in a way that is both *effective* and *sustainable*. Until we can do that, obesity will always be a problem, no matter what government policies we try to implement.

    • Kehy

      Responsibility has its place, but death by a thousand cuts is still death. Each individual factor might not have a terribly large amount of significance, but all of them combined is a powerful force

  • caz

    I very much enjoyed your article. There is much food for thought in it, and I would have enjoyed a good discussion about what it is saying. I hope to yet, but it will have to be elsewhere.

    I'm quite disappointed that so many of the comments I read were not well thought out discussions related to the contents, but back and forth discussions (and sometimes debate) of the prescribed diet and lifestyle of one diet guru or another (or the commenter's own views of what one 'should' or "should not" eat and do) . Of the few comments about the actual article, some were even inaccurate about what was said.

    The article is a good piece attempting to question at least, the 'first law of thermodynamics' idea of weight management, and suggesting many possible contributors, particularly related to the rise of capitalism and the economics of food production.

    Many groups and organizations benefit by the belief that it is a person's choices that are responsible for their weight, and all those diet guru's that are being touted in the comments ARE AMONG THOSE PROFITING!!! Anyone claiming to promote the "right way to eat/live in order to lose weight' are directly or indirectly feeding into the idea that it is our choice, while the article is legitimately questioning that assumption. It is not outright saying it's wrong, it's intelligently questioning it!

    Of the things not discussed, one of them is hypothyroidism. That is part of my story, as it is of many overweight people. Hypothyroidism, and thyroid issues in general seem to have also increased in the past few decades. Weight gain (no matter what you do) is one thing hypothyroid patients have to contend with, but I wonder what the cause of the rise in thyroid disease and how it might be related to the rising obesity rate,

    Another is the loss of trace minerals and other micro-nutrients in the soil. Causes of that are said to be the mono-croping as well as use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. That means that, even while consuming a "whole foods" diet, one may be lacking in many of the nutritional benefits available in the past and therefore contributing to the diseases of today including obesity.

  • caz

    I may have been too critical on some of the comments, for there were many that were relevant and some of heartfelt sharing of personal experience.

    I do object however to the promotion of one or another of the diet guru's or systems that are actually profiting by the very thing the article is questioning; the 'it's your fault" personal responsibility angle of the FLTD idea.

    Of course our well-being is our responsibility, and blindly trusting any authority is not in our best interest. There is also so very much logically convincing and contradictory information out there, it is really hard to know what to believe, so intelligent responsible dialogue on these matters is so important.

  • CrossFit Denver Randy

    quite interesting. lots of great explanations. or wait are they excuses? sorry but every fat person wants blame being fat on something other than anything and everything within their own personal control. it is in fact within their control 99% of the time. while every fat person wants to attribute every non fat person's "success" favorable/lucky genetics. here's the thing. fat, thin, muscular, endomorphic, mesomorphic....whatever, there is, in fact a scientific explanation. it's micro science (as in the singular human being) though not macro science (the masses) as everyone wants to believe. sorry what works for me may not work for you and vica versa. don't worry about science though. take the time, effort and energy to figure out what works for YOU as a unique individual. DO NOT believe all the hype of the mainstream media, large corporations, conglomerates and other for profit organizations and entities that try to make a buck off you. they are not your friend.
    with respect to mice, chimps, rats, cats, dogs etc. also getting fatter. there absolutely is a connection to to human's getting fatter and that is that they definitely live in "man's world" now, we do not live in theirs. they eat the same shit as mainstream humans do. light, BPA, other chemicals and their effects on hormonal balance...may be partially to blame? bacterial and viral influences? seems far fetched. i have seen so many people change their lives, that whether realistic or not, i will always hold on to the belief that if you are fat, it's your own fault. if you really want to change that you will passionately and unwaiveringly sekk out what works to change that. unfortunately, most people won't.

  • Melissa

    I am just loving the irony of all the comments the exemplify article's conclusion– "Today’s priests of obesity prevention proclaim with confidence and authority that they have the answer."

    The funniest thing is that Bloomberg's city, New York City, is one of America's thinner cities. And the most svelte neighborhoods are the fairly well-off ones full of restaurants like my favorite Salt & Fat, which was perhaps a cheeky sendup of Bloomberg's food policies. I struggled with my weight in my late teens in the burbs and then lost weight on some of the diets commenters here are promoting, though it was not easy at all. But I've managed to maintain it despite now eating what I imagine many of these people think are "bad" foods responsible for everything bad in the world.

    What changed? I've only lived in fairly well-off parts of cities in these years, areas that are pockets of European-style obesity rates despite being home to Cronuts, Momofuku's pork buns, and peanut bacon brittle. Let's not even get down to the sear amount of candy and booze Scandinavians pack down. Or pretend we can replicate Sweden or Park Slope's rates of obesity just by telling people not to eat particular foods or to "move more." I really doubt I would maintain my weight if I moved back to the Southern suburbs I am from, places that had no farmer's markets or even sidewalks to speak of.

  • Anonymous

    Have you considered obesity as a symptom instead of a disease?

  • Portland Dietitian

    This is the most thorough review, and the most compassionate, I've seen on weight. I will use it with my clients and "weightest" friends. Thank you!!!

  • slim

    Probably written by a fatty


  • effinayright

    OMG!! That pic!

    It's the Willendorf Venus come back to life!?

    What goes around, comes around...

  • Tom Linscott

    Great article but didn't find any mention of GMO's or that High Fructose Corn Syrup that is in almost all "Food Products" ( as opposed to real food) today and both are part of the problem.

    Today's obesity epidemic is the result of inflammatory hormones gone wild because of the ingestion of foods that cause inflammation ie: Sugar, grains and GMO foods. Fat cells are the bodies factories for these inflammatory hormones - Source( "The War Within" by Floyd H. Chilton, PHD).

    I have found that what works for me (down 20 pounds and maintaining for over 1 year now) is the low carbohydrate or Paleo Diet with real food only and one cheat day per week. I know everyone thinks that I eat large portions of meat and not much else, but that is NOT true. I eat small portion of 2 to 4 ounces of meat and lots of organic vegetables at every meal. I cook only with extra virgin olive oil, organic butter and extra virgin coconut oil as all other oils will make you fat - Source ( "Primal Bodies, Primal Minds" by Nora Gedgaudas).

    I started the Paleo Diet after trying other diets and working out with weights and running many miles only to be frustrated by not being able to lose fat from my waist line. I lost the 20 lbs during the first 3 months and did not workout at the gym at all.

    My advice to anyone wishing to lose weight is to stop the addiction to carbohydrates and those fake "food products" in the center aisles of the grocery stores. Vegetables and fruit will provide you with all the carbs you need. Shop the outside edges of the grocery stores and Farmers Markets whenever possible.

  • bobbyflavor

    1. What causes the obesity disease and why is it disproportionately affecting Americans? Europe doesn't have nearly the obesity epidemic that the U.S. has.

    2. Why aren't most wild animals away from produced food getting fatter?

    3. Why does the rise in obesity correlate so closely with the rise of fast food starting in the 1970s?

    4. How much is the medication to treat the "obesity disease" going to cost? Isn't being in charge of defining what is and ins't a disease and profiting off of treating disease a conflict of interest?

    • susan

      Europeans are also guaranteed PAID time off as part of their work schedule. In America, many Americans don't even have paid sick leave. That kind of constant adrenal stress to do more more more is perhaps one of our worst enemies. It means we don't sleep, oftentimes don't eat well (homecooked meals are best), have chronic hormonal imbalance, and don't get the restorative exercise and stretching that our bodies need. If you are an employer, your best defense against rising health care costs is to put the emotional well-being of your employees first.

      • bobbyflavor

        Agreed. But those are all environmental factors. Not biological. You don't "contract" stress. Everything you've just described is behavioral and not consistent with the idea that obesity is a "disease."

      • bobbyflavor

        So you're saying that weight is affected by behavior and lifestyle. Exactly. That's not a disease.

  • bill1958

    I was following along okay until it delved into the fake science of lysenkoism. There is no inheritance of acquired characteristics. That is not evoulution. You can't inherit obesity. Any genetic propensity is through natural selection over multiple generations not just one or two. That portion of the article ruined the whole thing. Lysenkoism is even less of a science than creationism. It is more on a par with flat-earthers.

    • MaryL

      Epigenetics != Lysenkoism. Look it up.

    • keelyellenmarie

      Your biology, sir, is at least 20 years out of date. There are SOME traits that can be inherited through alterations of epigenetic markers that occur during the lifetime of the parent. Epigenetics is still a young field, but it does appear that epigenetic changes can persist for a small number (1-3) of generations.

  • Leanhoser

    Excellent article. Large scale processed food suppliers ie Lever Bros, Purina (Nestles of Switzerland), and others are doing their duty to care for their shareholders, or simply reduce costs and increase sales and rightfully so. They created entire nutrition laboratories just focused on that. To avoid Nader-like relapses, the whole food/chemical industry has gone underground with information overload and obfuscation. But there are indicators though seemingly subtle are yet discernible and one does not need to be a researcher to observe them.

    Lets just look at a very simple real-life example that I live with everyday - my cats.
    Try different cat foods and you will find that some will never satiate their diets to a point of distraction, even regurgitation, and I am talking about high end products. Switch to unprocessed meats with no additives -- and quite frankly I don't know why grain is required in cat food -- and all is suddenly quiet.

    We used to eat raw or cooked vegetables in much greater proportion than we do today. Today raw vegetables are becoming prohibitive in cost. So the poor will obviously tend away from these better quality foods that once were cheaper.

    There's my simplistic two cents worth yet it seems to work.

  • Jack Cameron

    Mayor Bloomberg's assertion that weight gain is simply a matter of calorie intake is incorrect. Changes in food production methods, together with misguided government dietary advice, have been largely responsible for the increased obesity that has occurred over the past century.

    INCREASED DIETARY LINOLEIC ACID (LA) INDUCES OBESITY: A recent study found that the increase in obesity during the past century was associated with increased intake of major sources of LA, including soybean oil, shortening and poultry. It has been estimated that LA intake in the U.S. has increased from 2.2% to 7.2% of energy intake during the past century. Increased intake of soybean oil was the responsible for almost all of the increase in LA intake.

    Producers of animal foods, including beef, chicken,pork, eggs and dairy, have changed to feeding animals grain to capitalize on the weight gain caused by increased LA intake.Grain feeding of animals rather than their natural diet of pasture has resulted in increased LA content of animal foods which has contributed to increased LA intake in the U.S.

    LINOLEIC ACID ELEVATES ENDOGENOUS CANNABINOIDS AND INDUCES OBESITY: Increased dietary n-6 LA, which is the precursor to n-6 arachidonic acid (AA) elevates red blood cell n-6 AA thereby increasing synthesis derivatives of LA called ecosenoids. It has been found that certain n-6 ecosenoids are endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) which are signalling molecules that activate the same receptors as marijuana. Excessive intake of LA, like excessive marijuana use, elevates cannabinoids which induces obesity.

    Endocannabinoids (ECs) are involved in almost all categories of disease including obesity. The ECs responsible for most of the effects are anandamide and 2-AG;. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) also includes the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors and the enzymes that synthesize and degrade the ECs. It has been found that elevated ECs induce obesity by stimulating increased food intake and by reducing energy expenditure which increases weight gain per calorie of food intake.

    Mice fed a diet with 35% of energy as fat, including 1% n-3 ALA and 1% n-6 LA, were not obese but became obese when n-6 AA was increased to 8% of calories resulting in a 75% increase in red blood cell and liver ECs. Consequently, food intake increased by 2% while energy expenditure decrease by 14% resulting in a 12% increase in weight and a 25% increase in adiposity index.

    ELEVATED ANANDAMIDE REDUCES ENERGY EXPENDITURE BY CAUSING HYPOTHYROIDISM. The decrease in energy expenditure resulting from elevated anandamide is apparently caused bye to reduced synthesis of thyroid hormones due to "centrally mediated hypothyroidism" (ie via the hypothalmus).Hypothyroidism contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver.liver disease. (NAFLD)

    Anandamide is degraded by the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) Genetic mutations of FAAH are associated with obesity in humans due to reduced energy expenditure caused by elevated anandamide. Genetic mutations of FAAH therefore exacerbate the obesigenic effects of increased LA intake.

    USDA DIETARY GUIDELINES CONTRIBUTE TO OBESITY BY PROMOTING CONSUMPTION OF FOODS HIGH IN LA. The guidelines advocate substituting vegetable oils for animal fats based on the faulty theory that decreasing intake of saturated animal fat and increasing intake of polyunsaturated fats reduces risk of coronary heart disease. It is unlikely that the faulty dietary guidelines will be corrected until those responsible die off.

    SUMMARY: The increase in incidence of obesity during the past century is due in large part to increased intake of LA which results in reduced energy expenditure and stimulates increased food intake. Maintaining an appropriate weight can be facilitated by reducing LA intake to no more than 2% of calories and consuming enough fish or fish oil to provide 0.3% of calories as n-3 HUFA (DHA and EPA).

  • Claude Martin-Mondiere

    I designed a program to help people to get the right weight : To get the healthy weight by simple customized nutrition plan looks to me the most urgent goal to help America:“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.”
    ― Winston Churchill

  • Jawaid Bazyar

    Or, perhaps we're getting fat because we're all doing nothing but sitting on the sofa, snorking down Twinkies, while reading articles that reassure us that poor diet and lack of exercise have *nothing* to do with being fat.

    • keelyellenmarie

      This is idiotic. The article does not say that diet and exercise have nothing to do with being fat. Rather, the article states that the WAY diet and exercise affect weight is more complex than previously assumed (the type of food and exercise matter, not just the amount), and that other factors are ALSO at work.

  • heff

    I stopped reading this drivel. Being a disgusting fatass is indefensible.

  • Ben

    Worthy of discussion, but none of that changes the fact that reduction in calories will get individuals towards weight reduction with a high efficiency rate. Even if it's not a 1-1 ratio, one shouldn't call into question that logic. There is a high degree of misinformation out there for obese people (e.g. people obsesses over "low-fat" foods, etc..) that at a minimum should be corrected to understand the basic principles of calorie consumption and weight gain. If all these other factors make it hard to reduce calories, or make the weight loss less efficient than simple physical laws would imply, that does not change the importance of people first understanding those laws.
    Separately, however, the argument that it is illogical that people gain weight by simply eating a few more calories every day, but can't lose it by eating a few less every day is ridiculous and offered without any evidence. It makes perfect sense that it is more comfortable to eat an extra 100 calories every day than to eat 100 less, and on average most weight gain is gradual. The author's skepticism on this simple point doesn't hold water.

    • Brooks Moses

      Is that actually a fact? Why shouldn't one call that logic into question? Can you point to a single medical study that shows that caloric-reduction diets will lead to maintainable long-term weight loss in humans?

      (Hint: Actually, there are no such successful studies. Because it actually isn't a fact to nearly the extent that popular culture holds it to be.)

  • Rebecca Jones

    Mr. Berreby what you have so eloquently done is lay down all the reasons why obesity is the result and evidence of abuses of fundamental human rights, and is itself a human rights issue. The solution is to engage the democratic machine to enforce what has been missing--meaningful regulation of industry. The guiding principles for such regulation are offered in our growing understanding of health, both physical and emotional. At the heart of such regulation must be the overt recognition that our emotional selves are just as vulnerable and in need of protection as our physical selves. Addiction in all its forms is the sad result of so many abuses by industry--tobacco, food, pharma and I would even say fossil fuels--and we need to be explicit about how industry takes advantage of our vulnerabilities and tendencies toward addiction; rather than writing addiction off, in our puritanical way, to character flaws and weakness. Government, guided by the governed, needs to protect us from industry's unfettered access to our amygdalas! Not to mention we need meaningful regulation of chemicals, carbon included, that are known to put our health at risk.

  • Asia

    "A virus called Ad-36, known for causing eye and respiratory infections in people, also has the curious property of causing weight gain in chickens, rats, mice and monkeys. Of course, it would be unethical to test for this effect on humans..."

    "Of course"? If it's ethical to test on animals, then it's ethical to test on humans. Actually, more ethical, if the humans consent first, whereas the animals have no possibility or option of consent or refusal.

  • AlwaysASceptic

    Just a hypothesis, but let's see a chart of chain restaurant growth over time compared to obesity... most chain restaurants started in the US and spread out from here and by my recollection exploded in the 80's. The increased scale allowed the reduction of cost and made it possible for more people to "eat out" more often and for an increase in portion size as a competitive tool. This also resulted in a disconnection from the preparation requirements (as has the explosion in prepared foods found in grocery stores) and shift in what is viewed as "normal" portion size.

  • Roberto

    Sorry, but, 8 years ago I used to weigh 350lbs. with hard work and watching my diet, I am now at 155lbs...for the last 8 years! I don't deny that there are chemicals in the food and what-not...but, I also believe in having a healthy relationship with food. make an effort to not binge as much...Just make an effort, it works! Many of you will jump down my throat for this, but I'm a human-being, not a lab animal...Let's not keep making excuses for our unhealthy eating habits. ;-)

    • Harry Minot

      I'm a real person, with a real face.

    • susan

      That worked for the first 20 of 70 pounds that I needed to lose. I beat myself, restricted calories, watched every morsel, and exercised more to no avail. It took three years of frustration and enduring hurtful, rude comments from seemingly "helpful" people just like you to break the plateau. How? I became a detective and learned that it wasn't just about the calorie, but about the type of calorie I needed to control. I learned that I needed to remove all sugar and processed foods from my diet. It was about lean proteins, healthy fats, and lots of veggies instead of the whole grains that people told me to consume. It also wasn't about 15 hours in the gym a week--now it's a happy low-impact walk every day and HITT/strength training for 20 minutes three times per week. And yeah, I definitely get stares when I eat chicken and broccoli for breakfast but I too have maintained this healthy weight for more than 6 years. So, with that being said, former fat people always fancy themselves to be weight-loss geniuses, but the truth is that every body is different and there's no one-size-fits-all model to how someone can be healthy.

  • Harry Minot

    Hysteria, fragile thinking, and outright bigotry characterise the discussion of fatness.

  • John

    What absolute rubbish. Calories in versus calories out is main determinant on weight gain/loss. Other factors may be impacting on this but if people notice they are getting fatter they should do something about it. You don't get seriously obese overnight, it takes time. Yet another excuse for people to excuse being obese.

  • Maureen Colohan

    I wonder if it's as simplistic as the lab animals (God help them) have been steadily cared for better and better until crunch time. Like us they are simply more likely to be getting fed better and having less stress until the researchers put them through the mill. They're not exactly a good statistical sample either - are they? Hardly reflect the lives of the wild versions!

  • jpr_2000

    Interesting ideas; especially about the chemicals and perhaps there is some validity. But the reason people blame diet and exercise is that these 2 factors have changed so much in modern life. I live in Japan and when I go back to the US, almost every summer, I gain anywhere from 4-6 lbs. Where in Japan I use public transportation, in the US, I largely use a car to go anywhere. Since I split my time between NYC and the suburbs this year, I notice a stark contrast in the seemingly greater number & size of overweight people in the suburbs rather than the city. In terms of diet, we currently put sugar in everything, not just in our desserts and sodas. Our towns do not have a central group of stores which we walk among but are scattered and to move efficiently among them people need to drive.

  • G Young

    obesity is not just a factor of 'calories in versus calories out', but
    also the chemicals and types of food ingested, as well as a variety of
    other environmental factors? You don't say.

    This has been the message
    about healthy living for years - it's not just about how MUCH you eat,
    but WHAT you eat and how you live. Much of this might be difficult or
    impossible for individuals to control; this does not in any way excuse
    them eating fast food, failing to exercise appropriately, or treating
    their kids the same way, all of which happen with disturbing, grotesque

  • ruki444

    An excellent article Mr. Berreby. Well written, intriguing. Reading many of the comments here, it seems many people are forgetting a few things you mentioned. Probably the most important is that science is always in a state of flux. They also seem to be getting caught up in blaming the victim, perhaps not grasping what may be happening deeper down on a cellular level, and how strong an influence capitalism is most everything. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  • Angry Metal Guy

    This is excellent. Also, all the info about gut bacteria wasn't even touched on here. It's nice to see someone writing about the counterarguments to the moralistic bullshit that generally makes up the discourse around obesity.

  • Jan_England

    Interesting article, but it appears to leave out the spiritual dimension of men / women. Acceptance of immoral practices worldwide (contraception, abortion, attempted redefinition of traditional marriage, materialism, greed, etc.) can lead to depression. If people would turn back to God, address the root sin that is causing their depression rather than self-medicate, which leads to development of addictions (alcohol, drugs, food, material goods, porn, etc.), my guess is there would be more happiness in our world and less fat, among other undesirable things.

    • Daniel Savio

      Keep your nonsense ideology to yourself, thanks.

      • Jan_England

        What happened to freedom of speech??? :-)

        • Daniel Savio

          Freedom of Speech protects you from the government. It doesn't prevent ME from telling you you're out to lunch.

          • Jan_England

            I guess its o.k. for you to voice your opinion, but I don't agree with you! God bless you Daniel!

    • billyjoecain

      "Most women do not need any psychological help after an abortion. Feelings of regret after abortion are rare. Indeed, the most common emotional response after abortion is relief. Transient feelings of guilt, sadness, or loss are common but most women can overcome negative feelings that might affect them. It is normal to feel emotional after an abortion. While you may experience sadness or grief, these feelings usually go away after a few days. But in countries where the taboo and social stigma is big, it is more common for women to suffer feelings of guilt and shame."


      • pfrman1

        There is doubt as to whether womenontheweb is accurate and reliable. Here is an article from cnn that suggests that website downplays risks and downsides to abortion:

        Here is another article about it:

        And here are many stories of regret after an abortion:

        I have known someone who had an abortion and later came to regret it. I did not know her at the time of her abortion. But I do know that she wishes she could have done things differently even to this day.

        • billyjoecain

          "Women who are denied an abortion feel more regret and less relief one week later than women who undergo the procedure, according to “Women’s Emotions One Week After Receiving or Being Denied an Abortion in the United States,” by Corinne H. Rocca of the University of California, San Francisco, et al. Specifically, while 41% of women who had an abortion near the provider’s gestational age limit reported feeling regret about it, 50% of women turned away because they requested an abortion beyond that limit did so. And while 90% of women who obtained a near-limit abortion reported feeling relief, 49% of those turned away expressed this emotion."

          • billyjoecain

            Another quote re: the same study:

            "Researchers also warned that state laws requiring women to seek counseling or undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion may exacerbate women’s negative emotions about the procedure. Typically, state-level requirements like that are specifically designed to make women second-guess their decision to end a pregnancy, and tend to exacerbate the stigma that’s already associated with abortion care. Often, women are required to seek a counseling session at a right-wing “crisis pregnancy center” that tells them misleading information about the risks of abortion, including the widespread anti-choice notion that abortion typically leads to depression and other mental health issues. USCF’s ongoing research intends specifically to examine that claim."


          • billyjoecain

            Just to be sure we use another source.

          • pfrman1

            "Researchers also warned...." Is this based on the data of their study or simply on their preconceptions? Next it says "USCF’s ongoing research intends specifically to examine that claim."

            So basically they are saying they have come up with a preconceived theory and are going to go about researching it according to that preconceived starting point. Do you think there is the possibility of a research bias there?

            Did they even ever complete that research into the claim?

          • pfrman1

            One week after the abortion? Do you believe that reflects a comprehensive study of women and abortion? Do you think that quite possibly the initial reactions of that first week might possibly change (as the many testimonies in my former link showed)? I'm not sure how such a study seeming to already come to the conclusion that abortion is such a trivial decision by only measuring emotions within the span of a week is helpful.

    • Trishia Jacobs

      So all the "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" that are also getting fatter have turned from God, too?????

  • William556

    There was an article a back that said another factor for obesity, particularly in women, it the lack of fat in the diet, especially Omega 3's. The idea is that Omega 3 fats are used to build brain and nerve tissue. Nature programmed women to stock up so to speak on Omega 3's to help build healthy baby brains. However, because of the low-fat craze, people have been eating empty calories and few of the fats their brains need. So, the body sends out an alarm interpreted as hunger in order to get those fats. Instead, people eat more dead calories and not enough fats. The cycle continues.

    It is interesting to note that the obesity problem only really kicked in after the 5 food groups plan was abandoned in favor of the food pyramid which called for eating more grains and less meat. Then came the low fat diets craze and the obesity rates spiked again. Perhaps what would work best is returning to the old guidance of balancing meals and limiting sweets and cutting out the Voodoo advice that has gotten us where we are.

  • Tim Diller

    Thermodynamics is getting a bad rap, here. Bloomberg was guilty of a layman's approach to the 1st Law of Thermodynamics, which says that energy into a system minus energy out of a system is equal to the change in energy stored in the system. What people miss is that not every food calorie (energy) taken in is either stored or burned. In fact, some of it passes through, and the point of this article, in thermodynamic terms, is that there is a complex and coupled set of factors that determine how much energy is extracted from food taken in. *That* energy is either stored or burned, the rest passes on to the sewer system.

  • PJS

    outstanding article. well done.

  • hmies

    Oh my god. This has to be the most unscientific article I have ever gotten even half way through.

  • carlos camargo

    All of these words and all these angles covered and nothing on carbs being the cause of the obesity epidemic? Was this article sponsored by the wheat and corn growers association of America/Monsanto/ADM?

  • Flyingfish42

    As my British friends would say "What a load of bollocks". Even taking into account all the environment all and medical reasons in the above article you cannot escape "calories in calories out". He points out the tiny amount of surplus calories needed per day to gain weight, which is absolutely true. Every 10 calories nets you 1 lbs of weight gain per year. He also points out that the typical calorie intake for Americans is 2500-4000 calories per day. Now considering a barely active male 6ft tall and 180 lbs needs only 2000 calories (multiply your current or ideal weight by 11 to get your rough daily requirement) a day just to maintain his weight, and the low end is 500 calories higher than that and we wonder why people are over weight? That extra 500 calories can slap on an extra 20+ lbs in a year. (As you get fatter you need more foot to continue gaining additional weight so eventually you top out around 225lbs.) So take a sedentary person having the equivalent of two large McDonalds meals a day (we know it's more like 3 plus extra snacks and drinks) to get to that 4000 calories a day and you are looking at 300+lbs American. All that other add-on stuff he brought up is just like interest on credit card debt. To say that interest is the reason a person's credit cards are maxed out is just as laughable as saying that AC, electric lighting, and some efficient bacteria made you a lard ass while stuffing your face with that 4000 calories a day diet. It doesn't help, but these things are 5-10% of the problem. The other 95% is personal habits and social culture.
    The only time in my life I had a legit (not a depression/binging daily snack fest)3000-4000 a day calorie diet was when I was 18 unloading trucks for UPS 3 hours every night, followed up by roller blading, playing soccer, or hiking out in the woods every day, and my weight was still slowly going up. Compare that to an internet gaming teen of today who only goes outside to get into a car and only breaks a sweat walking up the stairs to an ACd building and you wonder why they weigh 200-300lbs?

  • James

    I have been regularly attending a Krav Maga/Crossfit gym for about seven years. Not a single person who walks through the doors and stays the course fails to lean out. I've seen people shed hundreds of pounds through a combination of physical activity and adjustment of diet (ie. towards less processed foods - if it comes in a box or can, it's probably bad for you). It takes hard word, dedication and perseverance, and "environmental factors" might have a role in making it more difficult for some people, but it can be done.

    • Archie

      Must have been a couple of fatties not like your comment.

  • Peter Bensley

    What I find really disgusting about this whole debate, and I see it a lot in the comments, has nothing to do with the factual question of what causes obesity and how best to address it.

    It's the moralistic language, the talk of there being "no excuse" for allowing oneself to be overweight, and the sense of being entitled to foist whatever worked for them onto everyone else.

    If you went to the gym and got in shape, great, I'm happy for you. I love my gym too! But if you're gonna bully people who choose to be fat or who haven't managed to lose weight despite trying, then I've got a dietary recommendation for you: Go eat a bag of dicks.

    • Neil

      I say the same to people who would rather tell everybody else what to eat, how to farm, what they can buy, and how to live rather than take some responsibility for themselves and get off their asses. This article in it's anti-choice language is every bit as moralistic as a fat-shamer.

      So why don't you go eat a bag of dicks, sounds like some desert might cheer you up!

      • Gloria Ponytail

        I, personally, think that both groups suck, for approximately the same reason -- and you can lump nasty, credit-seeking naturally thin people "who work so hard not to be obese" into that crap camp, too. It's because everyone wants to be superior to everyone else. There are a few people left in this world who don't give a crap what you do and I happen to be one of them. The prescription is a big plate of "mind your own damn business" with a side of "derive your self-esteem from within."

  • Eric Dew

    I just figured that lab animals are getting fatter because they're getting better at going through mazes or choosing the correct color or object during the tests. :-)

  • Emma

    If it's all about calories in vs. calories out, why did I lose 10% of my body weight (15 lbs) by doing the following:

    1. Cutting out all grains or grain products
    2. Turning every meal into the following template:
    1-2 palm-sized meat/egg (protein)
    rest of my plate veggies (a mix of starchy veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips with anything and everything else...broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans...)
    1-2 thumb-sized servings of fat (coconut oil, clarified butter/ghee with no canola/veggie oil other than olive oil)
    3. No dairy
    4. No added sugar in ANYTHING (not even the tiny amount added to bacon)
    5. No beans, peanuts, etc.
    6. No alcohol

    I did not change how much I exercised (if anything, I decreased it a little bit as I was nursing a shoulder injury that eventually caused me to get surgery). I upped my caloric intake (I didn't track it, but I'd guess it was at least 500-700 calories higher), but significantly decreased the calories from easy to digest options.

    Even now, in order to lose weight if I ever feel like I need to (after family reunion vacations, etc.), I cut grains, sugar, alcohol, and dairy while upping fat and veggie intakes.

    Oh, and my blood pressure/triglycerides went into healthier ranges than they were previously and have stayed there since.

    So yeah, don't just rely on calories. Cut the refined grains first, and see how you do. Not low-carb - just eat natural carbs like fruit, sweet potatoes, etc.

    • Andrei Lenkei

      Shorte answer: Because pretty much every single item you enumerate above has a caloric reduction effect and/or makes you feel satiated.

      Longer answer: You eliminated a lot of fructose from your diet, fiber and reduced the total calories.


      So yes, it is about calories.

      • darkcrayon

        You yourself said "satiated" though, which is obviously a huge part of it. "Calories" may not be very useful in terms of practical application for the majority of people- even if it's technically true. I know I have essentially no limit to the amount of Oreos I could eat in a day- but I could handle far fewer calories worth of steaks with vegetables with plenty of butter.

    • Daniel M. Clark

      I reduced my caloric intake, and unlike you, I track it. I didn't change the things I was eating, but I've changed the quantities. I still eat grains, various oils, dairy, beans, nuts, and all the rest. I just eat LESS.

      I'm down 31 pounds since mid-April, just four months ago. And that's with no additional exercise due to a back problem. Once another 15 pounds or so comes off, I'll be able to start exercising, and that will only increase the pace at which I lose weight.

      So go ahead and cut all the good stuff out of your life. It sounds like you're quite proud of that, and that's fine for you. Last night I helped my kids finish off my daughter's leftover birthday cake from last week and this morning I weighed in 0.2 pounds less than I weighed yesterday. I'll take it.

      There's no trick to any of this stuff. Perfectly fit, healthy people have been eating grains, dairy, and beans and drinking alcohol for *literally* thousands of years. They just weren't eating as much of it as we do today.

  • falstaff

    food has been transformed into" food product" : manufactured substances that are addictive in order to be purchased over and over in larger quantities.
    we eat too fast,too much,anytime, anyplace . there is a total breakdown of the ritual of the "meal" as a family gathering . Instead corporations with obscene profit in mind have sold us on their "culture " on how we should behave. total control of the mind through our tastebuds. Aldous Huxley was spot on

  • Zerostyle

    Obesity is really a mystery - but it's amazing how quickly the changes have happened.

    I've been (casually) researching nutrition for about 2 years now, but the most frustrating thing is that for every report you find, there is another report with an exact opposite view.

    I'm not a fan of governments taxing what they believe are bad for us, simply because (a) we don't really know and (b) everyone reacts to food differently.

    For example, saturated fat is pretty hotly debated, and this article mentions places putting tax on that. I've also heard of butter being taxed.

    Sugar seems to be universally considered evil, so that's not so bad.

    One thing that's not mentioned is also that it's not just the obese, but also the skinny having problems. A huge percentage of people have pre-diabetes these days, and many of them have a normal BMI.

    That's clearly just not a case of calories in, calories out. Diabetes barely existed 50-100 years ago, but it's everywhere now, even for the thin.

    Something has gone very wrong in this world, and I'd love to figure out what.

    • darkcrayon

      There's a lot of 'buzz' now about our overconsumption of carbohydrates contributing to type 2 diabetes- of course if you continue reading you'll find several sources that insist that *fat* is still the major cause! I believe the American Diabetes Association still more or less sticks to the high carb/low fat paradigm that the American Heart Association does- they recognize grains as raising blood sugar, but seem to insist that whole grains make it worth it (even for a diabetic) to consume the excess starch (sugar).

  • Andrei Lenkei

    I have to revise my previous comment a bit after watching

    This is a _must_ watch for everybody here.

    Fructose, as in HFCS (High Fructose Corn Sirup) is the main culprit. A calorie is not a calorie, i.e. there are good calories (glucose) and bad ones(fructose). This explains some of the comments from people who did not loose weight even while dieting.

    But the fact still remains if you take in too many calories (especially of the bad, fructose, kind and that is what we do by virtue of what is on the supermarket shelf) and don't exercise you'll get/stay fat.

    • Overwhelmingryan

      Why single out HFCS? It's generally no better or worse than normal sugar. Sugar intake in general should be limited.

      And I generally take it as a bad sign when someone claims a youtube video is a "must watch".

      • Andrei Lenkei

        In the video (see link in original post) it is explained how the HFCS (which is rich in fructose) is metabolized differently in the body than glucose. Yes, they are both carbohydrates but the way the body metabolizes them is different (fructose is metabolized the same way alcohol is) and fructose is converted into fat to much higher degree than glucose.

        So yes, it is appropriate to single out HFCS.

        You don't have to watch the video. Just google glucose and fructose metabolism and/or Robert Lustig and make up your own mind.

        As I wrote, I was also of the opinion a calorie is a calorie and overweight people have themselves to blame but I have softened that stance a bit.

        Best regards,

        • Overwhelmingryan

          Not all HFCS is the same. Most have a fructose/glucose split that is roughly the same as regular sugar. There's HFCS 55 which has a 55% fructose and 42% glucose split. Then there's HFCS 42 which has a 42% fructose and 53% glucose split. Those splits are not significantly different than normal sugar. What you're thinking of is the HFCS 90 which isn't nearly as common.

          Furthermore, Robert Lustig's research into fructose is far from conclusive.

          So as I said, HFCS should not be singled out as far as adverse health effects go. If people weren't over-consuming HFCS, then they would simply be over-consuming normal sugar and we would still be in the same situation.

          • Andrei Lenkei

            I agree that common HFCS is identical to common sugar but it is sweeter by 60% compare to sugar. Add the fact that it is also cheaper to produce than common sugar and that is why it has replaced sugar almost everywhere. So when we're talking about the adverse effects of sugar in the daily food intake it is HFCS we're talking about and that is why it is "singled out", i.e. because it is the dominating kind of sugar forced upon us. Nobody advocates replacing HFCS with sugar, we should cut down as much as possible.

  • DamnFit

    The main problem I have with this article is the tone he takes. Particularly towards companies that try to help individuals eat healthier and exercise more. Simply because you believe this is not the whole solution to the problem of obesity does not change the facts that we as a population have become lazier and consume more. There is great value in fitness and a healthy diet regardless of their effects on weight, and, hey, they certainly won't hurt any efforts to lose weight.

  • bobwyman

    I suspect we'll find that PM2.5 has a role in increasing not only obesity but also diabetes...

  • sam

    This article seems to miss the point that the high carb industry spends billions to induce people to consume sugars et al. Never underestimate the power of public relations as practised in advertising.

  • wkrieg

    Whatever the reason for the overall increase in weight each individual can adjust and control their own weight. Seems like you are looking for excuses that absolve the individual of any responsibility in their own fate. I cut out evening sweets and in 3 months lost 10.5 pounds. How am I able to do that if it is out of my control?

  • Howey in Austin

    Why does no one want to make a correlation with the increase of farm subsidies for corn and soybeans (sugar and fat, respectively, in processed foods) in the Nixon administration to subsequent obesity? Once cheap sugar was available, food companies learned how to add it. It is quite literally ubiquitous and most people's taste for it has dulled over the years so more must be added. Have you tasted Starbuck's pastries? What kind of sick individual can eat and enjoy that?? The irony is that the taxpayer pays for the production of a toxic substance, only to subsidize the health care system later on for the impacts. Take away the farm subsidies, the price of sweetener goes up, maybe it will be used less.

  • Roger Fenner

    It is an interesting proposition that obesity is not caused by a lack of exercise and a poor diet. It's even more interesting that one can lose weight and overcome obesity with ........... proper diet and exercise.

    • darkcrayon

      Imagine getting people to agree on what "proper diet" is. They can not.

      • Roger Fenner

        Agreed. But, I think there are certain things we can all agree are outside of a proper diet, like potato chips, candy, Twinkies, etc.

        • Taradino C.

          Nope, labeling specific foods as "bad" is nonsense. A diet is made up of all the foods you eat, and foods are made up of their ingredients. Chips, candy, and Twinkies can all be part of a "proper diet" as long as the total amount of sugar, fat, protein, etc. in your diet is still "proper".

          • Roger Fenner

            If you think all there is to food is "sugar, fat, protein," you are sadly mistaken. It is impossible to have a proper diet based on low nutrient foods.

          • Taradino C.

            That's a very different claim you're making now.

            A diet "based on" chips, candy, Twinkies, and nothing else is, of course, not going to be a healthy one.

            But it would be foolish to say these foods are always "outside of a proper diet". Plenty of people manage to eat well even with the occasional snack or dessert. If your "proper diet" includes X amount of potatoes and oil, it doesn't really matter whether it takes the form of chips or whether it's consumed separately as mashed potatoes and salad dressing.

            What matters is not whether or not you ever eat chips and Twinkies (or any other specific foods), but whether or not your diet as a whole has too much or too little of the stuff those foods are made of.

          • Roger Fenner

            You're the one changing what you are saying. You said, "Chips, candy, and Twinkies can all be part of a 'proper diet' as long as the total amount of sugar, fat, protein, etc. in your diet is still 'proper.'" I can easily build a diet that has those in amount you would state are "proper" and comprise it entirely out of junk food. But, now your're stating, "A diet 'based on' chips, candy, Twinkies, and nothing else is, of course, not going to be a healthy one." So, which is it? Is it all just "sugar, fat, protein" or is there more to it than that?

            I never stated that you should never eat those things. But, individuals should be aware that those are "treats," not a health-minded choice and are low nutrient options.

            It does matter what comprises those sources. Fish oil, high in nutrients your body needs, is extremely different than canola or corn oil. I eat a LOT of oil and fat. But, I choose nutrient rich sources of oil and fat.

          • Taradino C.

            I'm not sure what, if anything, I've actually said that you're disagreeing with.

            As you know, "etc." is an abbreviation of a Latin term meaning "and so on". When I wrote "sugar, fat, protein, etc.", I was referring to all of the nutritional components that make up foods, not just those three. My point is that eating a handful of potato chips is no different from eating the same amount of the stuff that they're made of: if you add chips to your diet, you can subtract potatoes and oil somewhere else to come out even.

            "I can easily build a diet that has those in amount you would state are "proper" and comprise it entirely out of junk food."

            If you could build a diet, balanced in every nutritional component, entirely out of junk food... well, I'd be really surprised. But if you manage to do it, you'll make billions, and rightfully so.

            "I never stated that you should never eat those things."

            What you said was "there are certain things we can all agree are outside of a proper diet". In other words, you stated that a proper diet can't contain those things, which is false.

            "But, individuals should be aware that those are "treats," not a health-minded choice and are low nutrient options."

            Again, what matters is the composition of your diet as a whole. There's no rule saying you have to eat nothing but "high nutrient" foods. Eating a bag of chips with lunch every day can certainly be a health-minded choice as long as the rest of your diet balances it out.

      • Archie

        Pretty much anything in as close to natural form would help comprise a proper diet.

  • Gerard Bulger

    What is wrong with the thermodynamic argument? Energy in = energy out?

    There may changes in appetite and efficiency over the decades, although I have not seen studies that show big differences in basic (resting) metabolic rate between people, which would be odd to find has we all have the same body temperatures.

    No doubt some chemicals, even adenovirus may have a role to play with appetite and our diet may have caused a change in bowel flora. Being obese may well be offering a positive feedback loop.

    I will uses your article as an excellent summary as to the possible causes.

    Capitalism has lifted more out of poverty and disease than any other the Chinese discovered.

    In the end the only treatment we have is to eat less to get the weight down no matter the cause. We do not have any other solutions. It is not easy to do as our brains get reset to eat to feed the larger animal we become. But eating less enough works every time. Works for me. Blaming capitalism for my plight or changes in bowel flora is a fat lot of good.

    • Brooks Moses

      What's wrong is that "calories out" are heat (as regulated by complex body processes) and fecal matter, not work done in exercise.

      The reason that you haven't seen studies showing large differences in metabolic rates must be simply that you haven't been looking. Measuring metabolic rate is routine enough to be a common diagnostic technique used by serious nutritionists. As to the mechanism: Sure, internal body temperature stays the same, but surface temperature changes quite a bit.

      (And, no, that's not the only treatment we have, nor is it even always a working treatment! For example, I know someone who had a metabolic test done under care of a nutritionist, and found that while she was eating under 1000 calories a day -- most of it at dinner -- her metabolism was really low because her body thought it was starving, and so she was still gaining weight. She lost ~50 pounds by eating more, specifically by eating breakfast and midday snacks, and thereby changing her body's processing so her metabolism kicked back up to normal levels.)

    • brownmichelle
  • Fontaine

    In the end it comes down to causality. Any conclusion that suggests any outcome, whether it be crime, poverty, or obesity, is down to simply human choice removes any attempt to understand the issue. This reasoning is similar to the belief in fatalism; choices exist without reason, without causes. In a way this is what the myth of free will does, it acts to isolate the individual and view them in a strange timeless vacuum where history and environment are deemed irrelevant. Context is removed, the situation is reduced.

    Because, as humans, it is impossible for us to have a complete understanding of causality it is easy for us to misappropriate effect. The main problem of this article is it often does not distinguish between what is causal and what correlates. Aligning the increase in animal weight to a global trend fails in this very way.

    Everyday I wake the sun rises. This does not mean the my waking causes the sun to rise.

    Examining causality means understand why things happen. It does not mean equating general trends without asking why.

  • PhilipK

    I liked this article, its good to see additional research going on. I would just like to take issue with the final two paragraphs:

    1. "Time to try alternate policies based on alternate theories" - One theory we know is true - if you eat more and/or exercise less, you will gain weight, (all else being equal). So for most people eat less / exercise more is good policy. If there is something else contributing to your obesity, maybe you can work with your doctor to find out.

    The author has listed a lot of possibilities for the extra factor in weight gain. When one or more of those possibilities actually reaches the level of a theory that can be tested and correlated with the real world, we should absolutely promote them. Personally, I don't want to be the guy that has to promote the elimination of capitalism as a cure for obesity! 8>)

    2. Using the phrase "priests of obesity prevention" seems like a logical fallacy of some sort. Dragging in priests from the 18th century and a discredited psychologist from the 1950s doesn't really add anything to the argument. The author might as well have gone for the "full Godwin". The rest of the paper seems reasonable, the last paragraph strikes me as completely unnecessary.

    • RandomJerk

      The last paragraph seems to simply be about hubris. Which is true of any human era including our own.

  • Fred

    Humm the passage on science always being in doubt and never settled is false. Some stuff get settled.. like geocentrism vs heliocentrism.

    • N. Cook

      Specific questions at basic levels are often settled, but the theories behind them often aren't. Heliocentrism may be objectively true, but our understanding of gravity, which underlies the process, is still not complete.

  • Maria Pocaterra

    As a Scientist I believe Obesity has to do with Mental Health and Culture! Our Western Society is Sick! Anxiety and frustration promoted by a Society that values material want and greedyness is what has people sick earting themselves to death!

    • RandomJerk

      I don't know what kind of "Scientist" operates on beliefs without evidence, and uses words like "greedyness" and "earting".

  • dorothy henaut

    What is weird about this whole discussion is no mention of the book WHEATBELLY, which basically postulates that wheat has been hybridized to become addictive, and incidentally to metabolize quickly as sugars. Of course, the book is more complicated than that, but it notes that those hybridizations started in the 1950s, at the same time as the beginning of the obesity curve. It is an interesting approach to add to this debate.

    • buffsrtoo

      Exactly. It's probably not the only contributing factor but I believe it's a major one. After eliminating wheat I lost 30 lbs in 4 months.

  • Yet another fatty

    It is well-known in the scientific community (you know, the people who get referenced in footnotes to things like "Proc Natl Acad Sci USA" or "Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol" or "Am J Clin Nutr") that "a calorie is a calorie" is nonsense. Different preparation methods of the some foodstuffs produce greatly differing nutrient bioavailability, the prenatal environment permanently changes gene expression around metabolism and insulin sensitivity, different gut biota families produce vastly different nutrient profiles from the same inputs, and so forth. Each of these three specific known factors (and there are doubtless others) appears to have a range of about a factor of two difference in the effective metabolic effect: it might take one person 16 ounces of steak tartare to get the same body fat effect as someone else gets from a cooked 4 ounce hamburger patty. And the metabolic effect even in a single person differs depending on the specific food's mechanical properties and micronutrients.

  • YehoshuaFriedman

    Does this mean Bloomberg will turn off the lights at 10 PM?

  • dragobabi

    one more possibility is soy and corn - which is everywhere to make more volume of the same amount of food. What that does to the organism has to be studied.

  • Alex

    Google wheat belly and get the book.

  • shawnsBrain

    I used to be fat. I exercised more and ate a better diet and I lost weight. This scenario also works for everybody else. If we were all chemically disposed to obesity, diet and exercise wouldn't be effective. Isn't it safe to assume that lack of exercise and poor diet are the cause, not a global chemical conspiracy?

    • ChiTownEdge

      It could mean you could have lost the weight faster or didn't become fat so easily in the first place. I think that's part of their point. What's wrong with investigating beyond the simple?

  • Justin Siemaszko

    This entire article is built on the idea that there's some great flaw in the calories in/calories out position. It then entirely skips checking for validation of the underlying assumption, and goes on to discuss alternative after alternative to an unknown that seems like it should be pretty easy to scientifically lay out.


    A.) We really need to get some funding together to make a good study (and then maybe studies) that demonstrates just how flawed the calories in/calories out position is. Then, and only then, AFTER we've established what percentage of overall obesity, and perhaps what kinds of obesity aren't the result of "the simple answer" should we start caring about what the other causes might be.


    B.) The above studies have been done, possibly many times over, but their findings are boring and show that calories in/calories out are overwhelmingly the problem, with all the other possible theories only accounting for a collective tiny fraction of the overall. Since they aren't sexy, aren't marketable, and don't offer advice anyone wants to hear, no one bothers to cite them.

    Does anyone know if this sort of information is already available? It seems like the article is a huge waste of time without first addressing this issue. (also, the author's conclusion is a ridiculous over-reach considering he utterly failed to demonstrate that the thermodynamics argument is as broken as he's implying)

    • Brooks Moses

      The great flaw is in the calories in / calories out model is not that it's wrong; it is almost axiomatically correct. The great flaw is that it's essentially useless -- only a tiny fraction of calories go out because of direct activity. Most of the rest of calories that go out (of actually-absorbed calories) are covered under "metabolic rate", and you can find lots of stuff about the zillions of factors that may or may not affect metabolic rates.

  • kjnisamutt

    Yes, there may be several environmental causes for the obesity epidemic, and society, by governmental and non-governmental means should fight these causes. But even though there may be environmental factors in obesity, that doesn't absolve individuals of the responsibility to fight their own obesity via food selection and activity. Society and our environment will not change rapidly. In the meantime, individuals would do well to focus on what they can do to help themselves.

  • Bryan J. Maloney

    So, the take home is "eliminate all chemicals and metals"? That's stupid. Oxygen is a chemical. Pure water is a chemical. EVERY PHYSICAL THING consists of chemicals. The problem is NOT "chemicals", only an idiot would throw around the word "chemical" in such a fashion as is done in this article. Likewise, iron is a "metal". Calcium is a "metal". So, people should have zero iron and zero calcium intake? Sure, if they want anemia and brittle bones.

    The villains are not "chemicals" and "metals". If there has been some kind of widespread important change in environmental influences, what matters are SPECIFIC "chemicals" and "metals". Only a monumentally lazy excuse for a "writer" would just use "chemicals" as some kind of ooga-booga scarey word.

  • peter

    Given how grossly overpopulated the world is then perhaps in the broader picture obesity may just be one of mother natures regulatory regimes to deal with over-population, Always we view these issues from the inside looking out and never consider the bigger picture.

  • Byard Pidgeon

    The answer(s) are's a combination of climate change and manipulations of our food supply and psyches by the Koch brothers and FOX News, all originally set in motion by Milton Friedman and Henry Kissinger.

    • bandytx

      Conservative can't do sarcasm at all.
      They're too rigid. Can't "roleplay" ambiguously.

  • paulstrait

    There weren't really that many clerics in 18th century Lisbon that blamed earthquakes on sin, since one of the only places in Lisbon not damaged by the earthquake was the red light district...

  • FreeJack

    This is such a wrong-headed article. I am obese because I have spent well over two decades eating more calories than I expend. As soon as I reverse that if by some kind of magic, I start losing weight. It really isn't any more complicated than that, unless you have thyroid issues. Find out your total daily energy expended (TDEE), reduce your calorie intake from that level by around 500 calories a day, and you'll lose - on average - a pound a week. This has been demonstrated millions of times and scientifically observed, unlike some of the crackpot theories I've read here and elsewhere. Obese people don't need more articles with dubious reasons why they can't possibly lose weight, because their environment and culture are against them...they just need to eat less than they burn. Case closed.

    • FreeJack

      "One recent model estimated that eating a mere 30 calories a day more than you use is enough to lead to serious weight gain."'ll gain around a pound over the course of about four months, three pounds over the course of a year, thirty pounds over the course of 10 years. One pound of fat = 3,500 calories. It's just basic math.

      • Huttj509

        If you eat 300 fewer calories per day, will you lose 300 pounds over the next 10 years?

        There is more going on in your body than simple calorie math.

        • A.Waller

          A sort of required assumption is that you have the fat to burn to make up the deficit. Also note that as you shrink, your daily number of required calories is also reduced.
          With those conditions, and provided you had 300 pounds of excess fat on your frame, then yes, that's absolutely what would happen.

    • Maia

      Not closed. In your case, it worked.

  • Mariusz Smykla

    "rural and urban areas" - does that include animals living in complete wilderness away from influance of humans? there is hardly any place on earth now not affected by human activity. the culprit can to lie somewhere in broken food chain or life cycles. Great example is that animals in labs are suffering from the same epidemic... Hygiene hypothesis? parasite deficiency?? Can I be a scientist now???:)

  • Chad Dattilio

    Interesting article. All of the author's points are good and do probably contribute to making it easier to gain weight in today's world. But the fact remains (as it always has) that if you eat right and move around a few times a week you will defeat all these forces arrayed against you and lose weight. The fact that it's harder now (or harder for some people) doesn't take the responsibility out of our hands.

    • N. Cook

      Personal responsibility only goes so far in this regard. If you're working 60 hours a week at a desk or service job(s), with kids and a low budget, there's very little you can do -- and sadly this is the reality for many. While many people can certainly make changes to reach a healthier weight, the forces moving against such action have only gotten more powerful over time. Personal responsibility is only one part of the problem, societal coercion is another.

  • thomas_r

    Obesity may be defense mechanism triggered by Gaia to preserve (advanced) life on Earth through times of hardship - forcing evolution to produce organisms better able to store reserves for a rainy day.


    Might come in handy, though - with Limits to Growth becoming more and more apparent...

  • Dave Da Truth

    tl;dr cry more crisco flavored tears fatass

    • Maia

      Hateful name-calling is not intelligent commentary.

  • Neil

    All that horseshit just to rain hate on capitalism. Jesus fuck, this author is a moron, and a self-righteous one at that. I'll take a few dead fatties over planned economy run by shitheads like this guy, any day of the week.

    • N. Cook

      It's hardly "rain[ing] hate on capitalism", it's pointing out that businesses are run for profit (fact), and that there's a lot businesses can gain from taking advantage of both sides of the obesity coin -- by (indirectly) causing it and then profiting off trying to cure it with fad diets and the like (fact). It's not the author's fault that capitalism is inherently amoral and tends to result in reprehensible actions being committed for profit, it's just the nature of the beast.

      But then someone as compassionless as yourself, with your gleeful admission that you'd rather see people die unnecessarily rather than see an honest take on the problem of obesity, wouldn't recognize that maybe, just maybe, profit at all costs might be bad for everyone in the long run.

    • Maia

      It is so tiresome to read invective that tries to pass as informed commentary.

  • truth_machine

    The thermodynamic model is necessarily correct -- it's a fundamental physical law -- but the application of it is ignorant and intellectually dishonest pseudoscience, since a) we don't have control over our bodies' amount or rate of *excretion* vs. retention of calories and b) we don't have control over our bodies' production of the hunger control hormones leptin and ghrelin, which as a result of evolution, have powerful effects on our psychology and behavior. Those who say "it's just physics" don't understand science and are denying obvious facts of human biology.

  • MorDowney

    I track 97 putative causes of obesity in the peer-reviewed literature. See

    • Maia


  • Shaun Kane

    Too much in one article. Why is it a wonder that information like this is clicked over time and time again?

  • DNButler

    I think that this article misses a key point. Every one of us have the body we have, along with it's limitations and predispositions. It may be predisposed to obesity, diabetes, cancer, slow/fast metabolism, or whatever. Perhaps, for the sake of argument, every person in the world is predisposed to obesity because of something in our past. It doesn't mattter... we can choose to work with our bodies, or not. Either way, we DO make a choice (even not choosing is making a choice). Why our body is the way it is does not matter in that choice. The base decision whether or not to do something about it.

    As humans, more than any other species we know of on the planet, we have the intellect and knowledge to make informed choices about practically everything we do. Ultimately, people choose to be obese, or (I suspect in most cases) they are NOT choosing to be a healthy. Too many of us are playing the victim role and blaming it on someone other than ourselves. Sooner or later, we have to wake up to the symptoms. It doesn't matter why, if we are putting on unwanted fat, then something we're doing is out of balance and we have choices to make. Sure, choices might be tough, and might be exacerbated by the behaviour of others... but that doesn't change the fact that the choices are still ours to make.

    • brownmichelle

      There is always a choice, but at times, choosing to be thin actually isn't that sensible of a choice. For example, if choosing to be thin means doing 60 minutes of intense cardio everyday, that's not such a logical choice for someone who works 10 hour days, who wants to spend time with their children in the evening, and who does not feel safe exercising in their neighborhood. Yes, they could do 60 minutes of intense cardio in their tiny apartment after the children go to bed to help ensure they are thin, or they could try to stay moderately active, eat healthily, and be fat.

  • Angelo Olegna

    is a major psychological problem with America's obesity epidemic:
    people do not like being told they have to change their behavior, and
    other people will come to their defense out of sympathy. There is the
    medical problem of being overweight and obese, and there's the social
    problem of being "fat". Harassment, abuse, and prejudice are problems.
    But at the same time; it is objectively bad to be obese.

    used to be 250 pounds, I'm now 135-140. People always ask me how,
    astonished. I always say "I stopped fucking eating 20 pudding cups in a
    day and I starting walking a lot". People actually buy into this
    ridiculous notion that gaining weight is not someone's fault. It is, it
    almost always is. Unless you have a disease that forces you to retain
    water; there is no medical condition that magically gives you added
    weight. I've had people tell me that I am skinny because I'm lucky or
    something, that they could never lose weight no matter how much they
    try. I then tell them to get a calculator app and actually record how
    many calories they are taking in and how many they are using through
    exercise and normal daily life. They won't do it. They won't actually
    watch their calories, so they don't realize that even though something
    is physically small, it will make them gain weight. Do you realize that
    you can eat 35 avg sized plums and only consume half of your daily avg
    calorie needs (1,000)? You would lose weight. You could eat an entire
    avg sized watermelon every day and lose weight. But if you eat 1 combo
    meal at a fast food restaurant, which is physically smaller, you could
    reach near the 2,000 calorie limit. People don't realize that, so they
    think they aren't eating as much as they actually are.

    can be other influencing factors, and some people actually have a lucky
    mutation that keeps them from storing much fat. However, that's rare,
    and mostly because that gene would have gotten them killed during the
    periodic famines that used to be common, but now are confined to
    specific underdeveloped regions (for now). Shorter people have to take
    in less calories in order to stay thin, taller people can eat much more
    and stay skinny. It's not fair; but it's just the truth.

    • brownmichelle

      I suggest that you read the article.

    • Maia

      I understand that calorie counting does work and I admire your fortitude. BUT there is very good evidence that is DOES NOT work for everyone. (Perhaps because nothing works for everyone? Nothing. Literally.)

  • JanetMiller88

    By following this simple advices you can bring $15000 of income every month... All you need is a computer and a internet connection and you are ready to start... b­o­w­6­.­c­o­m­

  • AKS

    As a phD working in the field of obesity prevention and policy, I have to say that this is a rather insightful piece. There are far too many stakeholders harping on about individual responsibility and control - when really - the truth is that the factors individuals are responsible for and have control of are few and far between. I would be interested in following up some of the points made here, is there a reference list or bibliography available somewhere?

  • Emma Grace

    There is a dramatic increase in amount of people getting obese around the world and this is going to be drastic. However there are modern ways to fight this obesity problem for example the one in this article is quick and safer way to get rid of obesity.

  • Larry171

    Healthy mammals don't gain weight due to increase in caloric intake. Their brown fat increases slightly and becomes more active. The brown fat, found along the spine, which is what maintains body temp., burns off the excess calories by raising body temp. slightly. One scientist produced a genetically obiese rat strain. Unlike normal rats which survive quite well at 40F by shivering for a few days until their brown fat kicks it up, the rats die of hypothermia despite their extra centimeter of insulating fat.

  • orbit7er

    there is no doubt that factors that tend to increase obesity are not just personal choices. For example it should be quite obvious that when Americans are almost
    forced to drive everywhere rather than walk or bike that this has an enormous influence on calories burned irrespective of going to the gym. See the following article:

    After analyzing data from national statistics measured between 1985
    and 2007, Jacobson discovered vehicle use correlated "in the 99-percent
    range" with national annual obesity rates.

    "If we drive more, we become heavier as a nation, and the
    cumulative lack of activity may eventually lead to, at the aggregate
    level, obesity," he said...."

    But Auto addiction is NOT a personal choice really.

    If there are no safe sidewalks, bikeways and little or no public transit then

    the individual really has no choice if they want to get to work, stores or live their

    life but to drive.

    More evidence of the strong relationship between Auto Addiction and obesity is mapping of US areas and their car reliance. In cities like New York where public transit is available and walking is common there is far less obesity.


    Yes, we should look at other factors but we should not overlook the obvious as we so often do in our addiction to an Automobile obsessed lifestyle...

    • Maia

      Agree that auto-addiction (forced by culture) is one of dozens of contributing factors.

  • Anabel

    Great article! What about animals in the wild whose diets are not impacted by humans? I would love to know if there is any change there. The lab rats make total sense since I am sure they are not fed all organic foods or the appropriate type of food. Who knows what they are fed. They are in the same boat as humans, so it can still just be the quality of food.

    Personally, I think it's due to several factors affecting one another - pesticide-laden foods grown in nutrient deficient soil, fed to hormone/vaccine injected stressed animals, consumed by tv/smartphone/computer zoned out/stressed out zombies, living in artificially-lit homes, sleeping in EMF conducting metal coils, surrounded by radio this or that and wifi, and ...

    It's a wonder anyone is healthy!

  • ADep00

    This is a very thorough discussion of all the other factors besides thermodynamics that could contribute to the obesity epidemic. While the discussion comments seem to have degenerated into the typical GMO, fats, micronutrients, etc, I wonder if the author is actually missing the main point. In the beginning he states "In fact, many researchers believe that personal gluttony and laziness cannot be the entire explanation for humanity’s global weight gain." Isn't the key word, "entire." There are many minor factors but thermodynamics is still the key: fewer calories in (eat less) and more calories out (exercise more) lead to weight gain. There are millions of success stories from organizations like Weight Watchers that use this simple formula. So, while there may be many other minor factors, the major factor is still personal responsibility.

  • Biologist

    Advances in our understanding of the well-being of the animals we come into contact with, whether they are our pets or the animals that we research, have also led to increases in enrichment of their environment. I worked with macaques and marmosets for a few years, specifically in providing enrichment for them, and that involved peanut butter on paint rollers, cereals and nuts sprinkled on foraging boards, and other things of that nature. They received that in addition to their daily food rations. I am not surprised that in the long-run their weight is higher than in the past, because they probably received only simple primate-chow in the past, now they receive balanced nutrition plus enrichment items for more diverse experiences. However in the case of the lab animals, I am sure they are psychologically healthier because of these measures despite gaining a few extra pounds.

  • putesputes

    The articled touched very briefly on bacteria. Considering
    that our bodies carry more bacteria than living cells and we depend on these
    bacteria to survive I think it deserves a lot more attention. The article mentioned
    bacteria that may cause weight gain. But the opposite is true and a lot more
    interesting. Bacteria are used in our bodies to process food. Different bacteria
    process food differently so these critters play a very important role on how
    our metabolism works. Recent studies have observed that people who visit the hospital and are given antibiotics tend to gain weight after being released. The thought is that antibiotics are killing the good bacteria in our gut that help process
    the food and in their absence the body does not use the food and just stores it
    as fat. Today everyone is exposed to antibiotics. A simple visit to the doctor for
    some ache is reason enough for you to prescribe antibiotics. This process
    starts very young since we never want our children to be in pain or sick. Their use continues into adulthood. When you consider how bacteria phobic our
    society has become and that the timing of the world wide use of these antibiotics
    coincides very closely with the fat epidemic I think this is a very important
    subject to look into.

  • Neville D’Abreo

    By citing all speculative causes of obesity, one cannot shrug off individual responsibility. Actually, it is not the weight that we must watch, but the measurements. I am not convinced that the sort of food we eat can make us fat while some other sort helps us to maintain the right weight. One may eat any food and still maintain healthy weight. I am reminded of the young doctor in a Steinbeck story. He goes to a school where all the children are Hispanic. He wonders at their vitality, the bright eyes and the pearly teeth. As he checks their health, he asks each child what he ate and everyone answers "tortillas and beans", or for the sake of variety, " beans and tortillas". As a farmer in India, I have seen farm workers, men and women, work eight hours in the fields, eat enormous amounts of whatever was available and sport six-pack abs and not an ounce of fat.
    I think, with the green revolution came food plenitude, and some people are eating far more than ever before in human history. We must eat no more than necessary and also exercise vigorously. If that were not so, we would not have so many thin people around us.

    • Maia

      Children can look healthy and have lots of energy on almost any diet, that seems to be true. But watch out when they turn 40. Besides, beans and tortillas ONLY cannot support health, but as the base of a diet including greens and some fruit, it could be a very good diet. All depends. Are the tortillas made traditionally, or full of fake fat, chemicals...etc? Are the beans full of pesticides?
      Do people supplement with wild herbs and weed (very nutritious!). And so on.
      We have to clear about as many variables as possible to learn anything.

  • Robert H. Pike

    Let me add a theory; Food addiction starts before we could walk and talk.

    It explains two things; 1. the difficulty of changing the addictive behavior. 2. the source of the addiction is not poor self control, it's poor parental self control.

    Think about it; Some parents handle their kids by ignoring them - some do the opposite - and literally "spoil" them. (The movie "Meet the Fockers" even gave names to these techniques; one was called "Fockerizing" the other called "Ferberizing") So some parents ignored the cries, some gave their kids water, milk, or "pacifiers", and a large majority gave their kids cookies and candies….hence, the addiction, started before we could walk and talk.

  • Empress de Snark

    In this entire comment thread, there is not one single, intelligent comment that questions the base assumption that we absolutely must do something about obesity, because OMGWTFBBQFAT PEOPLE ARE THE SCOURGE OF THE UNIVERSE OMG ELEVENTY!!111!!!!!! The link between body size and morality is assumed; most of you are also assuming that there are links between types and portion sizes of food, and moral character.

    American productivity is still the highest in the world. And we have the highest rate of obesity in the world. Thin people, thankfully, are not the only ones with jobs. So it follows that at least some of the "lazy fat slobs" that you think "must do something about their weight" are part of that high productivity. You might want to believe that fat Americans do nothing but overwhelm their desk chairs, shoving Big Macs and donuts into their larded faces as fast as they can possibly lift them in their sausage-like fingers, but it appears they're not as lazy and undisciplined as you irrationally assume. Hmm.

    And on what, exactly, are you basing these assumptions? Do fat people in your community result in less available food for you? Are you really such a sociopath that you cannot even share a public space with someone who is fatter than you? Who might make different dietary choices than you, and might also choose not to live the way you think everyone must live? Do you also get angry at other people who are allegedly "costing you money" through their personal choices, such as people who have children, people who sue the government because their kid got a paper cut at school, or people who participate in sports and athletics and suffer sports-related injuries? Do you go up to parents of twins or triplets in the grocery store and harangue them about the extra resources and infrastructure they're consuming? For the extra costs it required to deliver their multiple babies at one time? No? Then what's this about? Hatred and prejudice. That's what this is about.

    The CDC's estimates of how much allegedly "obesity-related" diseases cost to treat were inflated by more than 11 times over, you know that, right? In 2004, the CDC was forced to retract breathlessly, wildly overblown moral-panic statistics it had published about how many people actually die from obesity-related causes. The truth is, car accidents kill more people in the U.S. per year than obesity. Hmm, gosh, why aren't people as angry about car accidents? Why don't people like you rail and rant about the "personal irresponsibility" and "crisis" of car accidents? Why don't people call car accidents "the number one most urgent crisis facing America?" A close second to the dollars supposedly spent on treating those horrible fatties is the $100 billion-plus spent to treat sports injuries and accidents, but I have yet to see either the public or the media shaking its paternalistic finger at ordinary folks who get up on ladders to clean their gutters.

    The "moral panic about the depravity of the heavy," as the author put it, is what's driving your illogical assumptions. It is a mixture of a thin-privileged culture's hatred and sense of entitlement: a rather repellent sense of entitlement to never encounter, touch, or share public spaces or social resources with the fat people who've earned just as much right to them as you have. If your coworker is fat, and has health insurance, they are entitled to use that health insurance; they have earned it; they don't have to accept your shaming or reduce themselves to be entitled to the same benefits that you enjoy. There is no correlation between the morality of people and whether they choose to eat and exercise the way you think they should. There is no correlation between their character and their size; and if you think they're "lazy" because of your own prejudices, please examine who is driving productivity in the U.S., who is doing the volunteering, who's doing the teaching, who's doing the parenting, and who's buying your products and supporting your businesses.

  • Dr.PARS

    Finally a more comprehensive way to look at this craziness of blaming people (only) for the cheap, junk, addictive foods that offered to so many in our country. This must be an effort by many folks to help learn and implement the best ways of helping to become healthy and to promote health NOT diseases.

  • Van Burnham

    There are clearly multiple factors going on here. However, there is one major factor that has been overlooked by everyone, which is alarming because it means that this factor has become embedded in our everyday lives. I'm talking about the over prescription of anti-psychotic medications. A recent Harvard comorbidity study said that 56% of Americans have a psychiatric disorder. Furthermore, go into a drug and alcohol treatment facility these days and see how much mental health is involved. People aren't simply "meth addicts" anymore. Instead, they are bi-polar and exhibit co-occurring disorders. People go in for drug and alcohol treatment, and leave with a mental illness diagnosis and a handful of prescription medications.
    In theory, America has he greatest healthcare system in the world - we have the most funding, most availability to prescription medicine, the highest education requirements and professionals, but for some reason, Americans are getting sicker and crazier each year. America consumes the most prescription drugs in the planet, and we consume over 90% of prescription opiates.
    This certainly doesn't explain other countries, but I believe this is a strong contributing factor to Americas obesity epidemic. How many people have you met that tell you about a depression or anxiety drug they started taking, but it made them fat and they stopped or were thinking about stopping.

  • Anonymous

    "hotter conditions also have an indirect effect: they make people eat
    less. A restaurant on a warm day whose air conditioning breaks down will
    see a sharp decline in sales (yes, someone did a study)."

    The obvious explanation is that no one wants to eat in a sweltering restaurant when they can go down the street to a comfortable one. This doesn't support "heat makes people eat less" at all, and is a very dumb way to test that hypothesis. Why not just have people eat unrestricted amounts of food in rooms of various temperatures?

    Author: is there a link to the study?

  • Blue

    Drop sugar as an additive (all drinks/sweets/youghurts/snacks/dishes with the addition of HCFS, regular sugar, fructose, glucose or honey), deep fried food ("nuggets", french fries), go down with butter and wait a few months. If it doesn't work, try doctors and wonder diets, but I think it will work 80% of the time. I do not remember that much sugar in diet in the 80s.

    • L.A. Blythe

      My lunch in High School ('82-'86): Cactus Cooler soda, bag of Munchos, Twix candy bar. Or, the really greasy fries and burritos, or mini pizza, (plus the Cactus Cooler or Coke I got out of the vending machine after PE), along with the orange juice or chocolate milk option. Or, Carl's Jr or McDonald's, soda fries and burger. Sometimes the American version of Chinese food, full plate. (Could go off-campus for lunch--if I had the $ I did.) Breakfast was 2 bowls of Cheerios with at least 2 teaspoons of sugar per bowl (loved that sugar sludge on the bottom!) during the week, 3 or 4 regular donuts for b-fast on the weekends from Mr. Bleu's donuts, or an apple fritter or large cinnamon roll. We ate out for lunch and dinner on the weekends. Fries at every meal eaten out, unless I got strawberry pancakes. (The only other thing I would eat out was burgers.) + Coke, but only one, because in those days, refills cost $. Sometimes, we would make rootbeer floats and eat Stouffer's French Bread Pizza's for dinner and watch foreign soccer or Korean and Japanese soap operas (Samuri era). I was 5'11" and a 6/8. My only exercise was P.E. class (which I loathed and did as little as possible) and walking to and from the bus stop.

      Dinner was all over the place at home during the week, good, and unhealthy. Depends on what I felt like cooking. (Just me 'n my dad.)


  • L.A. Blythe

    Interesting comments. I read a lot about "people do this" and "people should," etc. I'm curious as to what a thorough examination of the individual experience of commenters yields. I found myself nodding in agreement when I read articles and comments that talk about "people do this, people do that, people used to. . . ." without ever examining my own experience in detail. I'm 5'11", in high school I was a size 6/8, mid 1980's. It has slowly crept up to a 16. I consume fewer calories, less sugar, less boxed or frozen foods than I ever have. The first big shift to healthier eating was when I got pregnant around 11 years ago. Now, because my son developed several food sensitivites last year, I can buy nothing prepared, with the exception of a couple of sauces and some canned beans. We are a grain free, dairy and egg free household. (I do sneak some pizza once or twice a month :) ) I haven't lost any weight. I'm even more active than I've been since college. Every once in a while, I pay attention to a calorie count--the only way I can loose weight is if I consume less than 800 calories a day. All of my bloodwork is normal, though my blood sugar is steadily going up to the upper limits. Looking around at middle aged friends in a similar boat to one degree or another, how much we eat and what we eat is not the problem.

    • Maia

      Personal experience points in all directions. My own is that I weigh about the same as during my teens.(I don't eat a calorie counting diet, but an organic only, unprocessed, plant-based and high anti-oxidant and omega-3 diet) Most of my friends, not all, have gained very little weight, but they don't eat as I do. Why? We don't know all of the reasons. In fact, there is no single "smoking gun" ! Look at more variables. Look at what is happening in other cultures. Stress and lack of sleep causes weight gain, for example. Low Melatonin level causes weight gain. Many many things, AND they interact with each other in a multiplier effect!

  • Jim Smith

    processed food. GMO. high fructose corn syrup. chemicals in everything. and yes, lack of exercise. there are a whole lot of factors.

  • Jerome Bigge

    One thing that wasn't mentioned is that if we look back half a century or so, we will see that the average American of the time was slimmer than their counterparts of 2014. One major difference was that a majority of American adults smoked cigarettes. Cigarettes are one of the best "weight control" items there is since smoking reduces appetite and also tends to replace "nibbling" which is one of the drivers of obesity today. Going by my own experience, controlling one's "weight" wasn't an issue back when I was a smoker. Dieting was "easy", with cigarettes an excellent "replacement" for food. So if we were still a nation of smokers, obesity would likely be rather uncommon. especially as back then there was no restriction upon teenagers buying cigarettes. Especially from vending machines.

    It is my observation that the great majority of people who quit smoking will gain weight. There is also the consideration that obesity creates long term "expensive" medical problems than did smoking. The treatment of diabetes is quite expensive, due mainly to the high cost of many insulins here in the US. $500 a month is not all that uncommon. That's before adding in the cost of test strips, monitors, needles, doctor visits. Especially as the US medical profession does not have much interest in reducing the cost of health care by selecting the lowest cost medications first.

    I will grant that the obese probably do live longer than smokers did, but their "lifetime costs" are likely higher than that of smokers (ignoring the cost of cigarettes) because of treatment costs. Smokers generally make it to retirement age before their "habit" catches up with them, while the obese can start having problems before becoming adults. Teen age diabetics are not unknown, and that means they will be in need of insulin for the next sixty years or so. So switching our "addiction" from tobacco to food might have been a bad choice considering total lifetime costs...

  • Keln

    I think the most likely candidate of the above discussed are a strain of "gut" bacteria. I have two reasons for thinking so. The first is that the cross-species increase of weight gain as well as cross-culture prevelance suggests something "contagious". The second is, gut flora are considered one of the prime factors in how we get energy from food.

    In my own case, I had always been "thin", until I began to gain weight quite suddenly in my late 20s. I assumed, and was told, that this was due to age but now I wonder about that. My eating habits had not changed (I've never been a heavy eater) nor my routine including exercise (I was in the military at the time, so I had no choice about exercising).

    I also found that increasing exercise and lowering calories did not have the expected results. It took practically starving myself to get my weight back under control and within regulations again. I have a hard time believing that exposure to chemicals like BPA or the luxuries of air conditioning, which I had been exposed to most of my life, would suddenly cause weight problems. A sudden exposure to a new strain of gut bacteria, however, would make more sense.
    Just my own, non-scientific observation.

  • phoenixxfromash

    what about bugs, like those crazy ants in TX?

  • Sam Mk

    Muscles often lead to a thought of those weight lifters with those big physique and small bulks that look like stones. Workouts don’t just make an individual bigger with the muscles. It tones up the muscle to make an individual look fit and healthy. It depend on what approach is being done since the higher intensity of workout was performed; the more muscles will be built up.

    Best Way to Lose Fat and Gain Muscles Fast

  • exemplary1

    Of course, anyone who travels outside the US, to almost anywhere, France to name but one place, finds far thinner people. Why's that? We eat way too much goddamn food...that's why. its as simple as that.

    • Maia

      Not just quantity, but quality. Check into the differences there, and you'll find a lot of reasons for obesity (and worse health in general) in Americans overall than in Europeans.

  • bereniceweber

    Excellent article! Going for a walk now and to bed in a dark dark room way earlier tonight...

  • Overleaf

    What a bunch of speculation just so that he can throw mud at capitalism and slag the west as colonialists. Even his economic arguments make little sense and are not factual.

    Worst of all, he dismisses the role of genetics. Typical to the leftwing ideology, everybody has the same set of genes, and there is no difference among people, not an iota. Therefore, if in practice we find differences, then it must be socio-economic reasons for that, and of course it is the fault of capitalism and the powers amassed by the 1% that causes all the dfferences among people, and if we just had socialism, we would arrive at the utopian paradise of complete equality.

    Aeon is losing its integrity by publishing biased and political articles camouflaged as "science". If genetics is immaterial, then it becomes pseudo-science.

    • Maia

      Your own bias is showing by the use of language such as "typical leftwing ideology", "if we just had socialism...etc"