Who is to blame for the Obesity Epidemic?

The food industry will blame our current obesity epidemic on personal responsibility and making good choices. They will say you need to exercise more and eat less, but in reality gym memberships and weight loss programs such as Jenny Craig are raking in profits at historic levels. In fact health club industry revenues have exploded from two hundred million in 1972 to an estimated twenty two billion in 2012 [1]. Today the largest percentage ever of our population is currently involved in some type of physical activity. So, if sedentary behavior makes us fat and physical activity prevents it, shouldn’t this so called “exercise explosion” have launched an epidemic of fit/leanness rather than an epidemic of obesity? It is not the consumer’s fault that we are now engineering our foods to last longer, stay fresher and contain enormous amounts of sugar. The fact is the food industry is responsible for making the worst foods the cheapest and most accessible. It's no accident the worst foods just so happen to be heavily subsidized. 

As humans we are hardwired to go for three tastes: salty, fatty and sweet; which use to be very rare in nature. Now sugar and salt is available twenty four seven and in tremendous quantities where the average person is now eating hundreds of pounds of this stuff a year. These diets of refined carbohydrates and fructose (sugar) will lead to spikes of insulin which will gradually wear down the way our body metabolizes sugar. The problem with foods high in fructose is that this type of carbohydrate goes directly to the liver to be processed; unfortunately the liver does not have nearly as high as a storage capacity as the muscles do for glucose. This means that when you consume high fructose foods you are more likely to see an increase in body fat accumulation once the storage needs are met. Then the liver will start converting the remaining fructose into triglycerides. Note that high levels of triglycerides can lead to atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke. What is also important to understand is that when sugar is consumed your pancreas produces insulin which will block the receptors in your brain that will tell you that you are full and you need to stop eating. It is the same reason why you are never satisfied eating foods high in sugar and why a calorie is not a calorie when it comes to sugar. 

Our whole farming industry has turned to bigger, faster, cheaper which is making us fatter and sicker. Even farm animals are sick and have to be routinely fed antibiotics to keep them alive due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. The antibiotics are then excreted through their manure which contaminates the surrounding soil and water. They are fed the same antibiotics as humans and in a report released by Food and Drug Administration [2] 81% of ground turkey, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef and 39% of chicken had antibiotic resistant bacteria in the meat. Which means if you get sick there is no help for you because antibiotics will not work. Unfortunately there hasn’t been any newly discovered antibiotics in quite some time maybe because pharmaceutical companies are not interested in making you better; they are interested in making money. The money is in medications prescribed to people with medical problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes. 

As a society we are sicker than ever, but we live longer because of things like better sanitation, clean water and access to healthcare but there are unintended consequences. In most poor societies you now see simultaneously obesity and malnutrition. You see malnutrition in children and obesity in adults and that directly relates to what is cheapest to eat just happens to be the worst food for you. Type II diabetes usually only affected adults but now it is affecting children especially minorities at epidemic levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 100 million Americans will be diabetic by 2050 [3], and 165 million Americans (42%) will be obese by 2030.The reality is this will cripple our health care system and a reason why the Government Accountability Office report came out saying Medicare will be insolvent by 2026 [4]. 

Someone needs to stand up and say the answer is not another pill, the answer is spinach and other healthy fruits, vegetables and grains. We need to start to buy from companies that treat workers, animals and the environment with respect. Do not leave your health to some big profit-hungry corporation thousands of miles away where they do not have to live with the consequences of the decisions that they make. It is up to us to take complete charge of ourselves and our family’s health. Remember you could make a huge difference by voting with your wallet three times a day.


1.) Ihrsa.org- Industry Revenue

2.) FDA Report- http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/newsevents/cvmupdates/ucm335102.htm

3.) CDC Division of Diabetes Translation, 2011

4.) Government Accountability Office, 2013

Jordan Nichols