The Obesity Odds: What You Can Do Today to Avoid the Epidemic

October 25, 2017

If you’ve checked the stats lately, you’ll already know how grim the obesity epidemic has gotten—even over the last decade.

And if you haven’t seen the numbers, you’re going to be shocked.

According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 70.2% of Americans are either overweight or obese. 37.7% of us are obese, including a whopping 40.4% of women. Almost 8% of the population is considered extremely obese. Even worse? One in six children ages two through nineteen are considered obese.

That’s bad, guys.

Like, really bad.

Because obesity leads to all sorts of major health problems. Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, strokes—and hundreds of other maladies are direct consequences of obesity.

And, what’s worse, those stats aren’t trending down. Instead, it’s getting worse.

So, how did we get here?

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Well, while it’s easy to oversimplify the causes of obesity, here are some factors that, in combination, can lead to obesity.


While your genes do play a part, they don’t play nearly as large a role as you might think.
Genes, according to a recent Harvard study, only influence who might become obese. Environment and lifestyle choices determine how many people actually become obese.
Yes, genes (by definition) run in the family. But so does diet.
Obese children come from obese parents mostly because they all sit around the same dinner table.

Habits are passed on far more readily than genetic coding.

On top of that, your genes aren’t your destiny. You can change your genetic pathways, which genes are “turned on” and which ones aren’t, by changes in lifestyle and diet.


Not surprisingly, diet is one of the biggest factors in obesity. Consuming large amounts of simple carbs like sugar, drinking sodas, and ingesting the massive amount of non-food chemicals and preservatives in processed food… All of these contribute to the obesity epidemic in profound ways.

We look back to our grandparents and what they ate for breakfast—thick cut back-strap bacon, eggs, and large amounts of heavy dairy products—and it’s a little confusing. All of those things are supposed to be bad for you, right? But time and time again you hear about grandpa eating that every day and living well into his nineties. Those foods are, of course, bad for you… But at least they are REAL FOOD.

Honestly, though, this isn’t your fault. You’ve been targeted since birth by the big food companies who, especially since the late 1970s have been waging a processed-food arms race against each other. And we’ve gotten caught in the crossfire.

That bag of Doritos in your cupboard? That’s less a bag of flavored corn chips than it is a scientifically engineered attack on your brain chemistry. They’re designed to be consumed, and consumed, and then consumed again.

(Lay’s doesn’t even hide this strategy.. their branding is essentially an overt, cynical shot over the bow signaling that they’ve cracked your taste buds’ code and are preparing to ruin you.)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. TV commercials, billboards, internet pop-ups, and disgustingly blatant ad campaigns aimed specifically at children under ten… It’s a constant and strategically designed attack on your senses.

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We work in offices. We spend the evening on the couch in front of multiple screens. We’ll wait for 15 minutes idling in the car for a parking space that won’t require us to take more than ten steps to get to the scooter-cart at the grocery store.

As humans, we evolved to move. To chase down our food. To escape lions.

Now that we no longer have to move, we don’t.

So our hormones slip out of balance. We don’t deal with stress in healthy ways. All our energy just gathers inside us. And with no outlet, all these things have no choice than to make more room for themselves.

In light of this current epidemic, we’re seeing the results of that strategy bare its massive teeth.

Lack of Community

I’ve seen this happen over and over. Without a healthy, supportive community, people can become isolated. Things build up inside them, and in their loneliness, despair sets in. Their health slips. And instead of living their lives, life just starts happening to them. Bad habits develop, and without that supportive community around them, it’s very easy to move down the path to obesity.

You can’t get healthy without a supportive community. But you can definitely get obese in its absence.

Lack of Knowledge

Perhaps the biggest cause of obesity on this list, lack of knowledge is a huge issue.

It’s not that we don’t know we should be eating healthier. We do. And it’s not that we don’t know that we should move every day. We know that too.

But I’m not sure it’s common knowledge how all those different pieces fit together. We have the abstract, thousand-foot view, but the details are blurry. We know we should exercise, but we might not know what kind of exercise we should be doing. We know we should eat healthily, but what makes something healthy? Sugar-packed yogurt is sold as “healthy,” but in reality, it’s one of the worst things you can eat. Diet pop is surely better than regular, right? It has “diet” right there in the name! (Answer: No. No it’s not.)

If you’re confused about what to eat, that’s by design. After all, it’s hard to make money shilling kale.

That knowledge gap also comes into play in when people aren’t in touch with what’s going on with their bodies. They don’t know what’s happening inside themselves because, to be honest, most of the time they don’t want to know.

It’s easier to stay distracted, to leave the issues that they sense might be worsening for their future-selves to deal with.

It’s a natural response, of course. We all do it.

But in this case, it can have deadly consequences.

The Skinny on Obesity

And maybe that’s the moral of the story here. The obesity epidemic isn’t going to go away on its own. Honestly, even trying to tackle the problem at a macro level is probably a fool’s errand.

But if you educate yourself, and then take action on that information, that’s how we’re going to reverse obesity.

Your health is yours. It all begins with you.

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