Why are women are getting fatter?

obesewomenMy 10 speculative explanations.

You didn’t need a statistical study to tell you people are getting fatter.  Just go out and look around.  But it helps to have your observations confirmed by health experts, and the latest bad news is that women are becoming more obese — 40% at last count — at a fast rate.  The trend is linear.  In other words, a graph of obesity rates for women over the past few years goes up in a line, like a plane taking off.  Obesity in men isn’t increasing in that manner.  Whew!  It’s still “merely” 35%.

Mind you, this is about obesity, not that squirrely “overweight” category, defined by a BMI between 25 and 30, which sweeps up all kinds of people who may have more muscle mass and so are heavier than average.  No, this is about people with a BMI over 30.  And so-called Class 3 obesity (the people you’d see on The Biggest Loser-type obesity) is also increasing in women.  Not good.

Rather than nagging or hand wringing or blaming, I’m wondering what’s going on.  So are the researchers, although they didn’t look for causes and didn’t provide any thoughts on why this is happening.  But I can certainly speculate, so let’s get going!

  1. We’re sitting more: in cars, in front of screens, in meetings and waiting rooms, in school, on planes and buses.   And as noted previously, sitting is actually anti-exercise.
  2. We’re eating more.  It’s easy to eat more, whether a lot more or just a constantly little more.  If you dine out, you’ll be served too much food, which you will probably eat.  It’s really easy to grab tasty, convenient ready-to-eat junk food.  And it’s easy to guzzle calories from soft drinks or coffee drinks.
  3. We eat-back calories after exercising.  This is a really dumb idea, encouraged by some calorie and exercise trackers.  “Hey, you burned 300 calories! Treat yourself to an ice cream cone.”  Except, oops, estimates of calories burned by exercise are notoriously inaccurate and people’s ability to judge the calorie content of food is also inaccurate.
  4. Kids are increasingly obese, and we may be seeing the first wave of obese kids, that started years ago, who now are obese adults, skewing the statistics.
  5. Could there be something about the gut microbiome and obesity?  Research suggests yes.  But what is it? We don’t know.   it’s possible we’re seeing the longer term effects of obesity-promoting gut bacteria.
  6. Few people are getting any meaningful amount of exercise.  Yet another depressing study found that hardly anyone engages in recommended health behaviors, including regular exercise.
  7. Sleep problems?  There seems to be a sleep-weight connection, but what? Is it as simple as eating more when you’re sleepy or fatigued in an attempt to boost energy?  Or is there some metabolic effect of not sleeping that affects weight?
  8. Epigenetics.  Think of your DNA like a piano keyboard.  Pianos are built with certain keys.  But that doesn’t mean all the keys are used all the time.  Some are never used.  You DNA is used in a similar way.  Other molecules control which genes get activated or inactivated.  Some are never activated.  This is a very new field of study, and not well understood.  But there’s a possibility that energy metabolism and fat storage are controlled by which genes are activated.  And that process can be influenced by external factors, such as the foods you eat (or don’t eat) and your environment.
  9. Eating the wrong mix of foods.  And no, I don’t recommend low fat and sugar-free.  Quite the opposite.  Yet another study has shown that the Mediterranean Diet is weight-friendly.  Obese and overweight people who followed it, eating olive oil and nuts, lost weight even though they didn’t cut calories.  Again showing that eating fat doesn’t translate into getting fat.  Unfortunately, lots of people trying to lose weight are stuck in the antiquated low fat diet world, eating low fat this and low fat that.  Wake up call: it’s not working!
  10. We’re taught (by diet hustlers) to be afraid of hunger, and therefore we must eat constantly to fend off dreaded hunger.  Meals, snacks, more snacks.  It’s non-stop food input.   Your digestive system needs to regroup and reset after an eating episode (aka: meal), absorb and use up the food you ate and then send hunger signals to tell you to eat again, 3-4 hours later.  But if you’re constantly eating and drinking, there’s no metabolic re-set.  While there aren’t really any studies that look at this situation, I’m going to hazard a guess that allowing your system to process the food you eat at any one time before loading up on more food would be a good idea.

Take Away Advice

What can you do now?  “Eat Less, Exercise More” will work, but I’d change that up a bit to “Eat Mediterranean, Exercise More”.  That way you don’t have to eat so much less, and you’ll also be eating a generally healthier diet.

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