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Why is obesity in America increasing?

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Did you know obesity rates have nearly tripled in the US over the last 50 years? Even more alarming is that by 2035, more than half of the world is predicted to be overweight or obese, according to a new report by the World Obesity Federation. In the 1960s, fewer than 14 percent of American adults had a body mass index (BMI) over 30. Fast forward to the present day, and almost 42 percent of Americans have a BMI over 30. And due to health disparities, these stats aren’t evenly spread across America either. Americans with low income, who have less than a college education, those who are middle-aged, and those living in the South as well as non-Hispanic Blacks and American Indians are more likely to experience adult obesity, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So why the increase?

Well, scientists still don’t know all of the causes of obesity, but they have some strong working theories. So far, research has shown that obesity and excess weight is likely a combo of genetic, environmental, social, and biological factors beyond personal choice. And weight is determined more by our genetics and biology than previously thought. Here’s the thing, our genetics are like a loaded gun, but our lifestyle is what can pull the trigger. Meaning you aren’t doomed. Phew! This is why some people can eat all of the food all of the time without seeing changes on the scale— but it’s also why some people with excess weight or obesity are doing things like eating well and exercising but just can’t seem to lose excess pounds. We’re only now beginning to understand how to treat obesity (hint: it’s not solely eating less and moving more) as the complex, chronic disease it’s now recognized to be. 

4 reasons why obesity has increased so much in America

OK, we’ve established that since the 60s, obesity’s been climbing. Now, there’s no definitive answer for what’s driving America’s obesity epidemic, but these four factors could be contributing to the increase.

1. An abundance of cheap, easy food 

If we’re being totally honest, fast food doesn’t help the nation’s growing obesity epidemic. There’s a myriad of nutrient-poor, high-calorie food that’s also super affordable and convenient when you’re in go-go-go mode (or don’t live near a grocery store.) Low-income neighborhoods have more access to highly-processed and fast foods than fresh, healthy food. And while artificial trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, were essentially eliminated in January 2020 when the FDA no longer allowed manufacturers to use them; they can still be found in some foods. Crackers, fast food, cakes, cookies, baked goods, coffee creamers, snack foods, refrigerated doughs, and vegetable shortenings, can still contain trans fats, so check the label.

2. Less physical activity 

Let’s be real—most of us are sitting all day working a desk job. Americans don’t work as many physically demanding jobs as they used to (only 20 percent of jobs are physically demanding compared to almost 50 percent in the 60s). And almost one-third prefer to get around in cars instead of walking for a short trip. And according to the CDC, about three-quarters of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of exercise each week (at least 150 minutes of weekly moderate-vigorous activity). Sedentary lifestyles contribute to obesity; not only does a lack of physical activity mean burning fewer calories, but it can also lead to insulin resistance (which is linked to obesity).

3. Environmental contaminants 

Endocrine disruptors are other environmental contributors to obesity. They’re synthetic, manufactured chemicals such as plastics that can disrupt hormonal communications in your body and alter metabolism by interfering with your endocrine system’s signaling. And it’s no surprise that since the 1960s and 1970s, there’s been an upwards trend of new synthetic chemicals being produced and added to everyday products. It’s best to avoid products with parabens, industrial solvents and lubricants, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in older electrical equipment, insulation, or oil-based paint), organophosphates (insecticides), phthalates (plastics), pesticides, and bisphenol A (BPA) as much as possible.

4. The stressful Covid-19 pandemic 

Some 42 percent of American adults said they’d gained more weight than they intended during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a 2021 survey by the American Psychological Association. Of those who had the unintended weight gain, the average increase was almost 30 pounds. Why this massive increase? For one, the pandemic was extremely stressful, and science has linked chronic stress to weight gain. Plus, many of us were also moving less and turned to emotional eating or drinking to help cope, which can be a recipe for weight gain. But hey, that’s why Found is here. 

How Found can help

Found is a medically-supported weight-care clinic that offers prescription medications, access to a team of health coaches, and a behavior change program hosted in an app where you can work on your weight-care goals and track your health outcomes (like sleep, mindful eating, movement, and more). Plus, Found offers an in-app community for support and motivation. This online weight-care program treats obesity as a disease by considering your unique biology. Weight-loss medications can help close the gap—allowing you to be in the driver’s seat of your health journey. Take our quick, personalized health quiz today. 

About Found

Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

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