Weight gain and Obesity.

Why are population’s waist lines expanding?


During the last 5-6 decades world populations have begun to gain weight. This very recent occurrence in terms of human evolution is multi factorial and needs to be examined closely to be fully understood.

Since the 1940s/50s the way we live has completely changed, particularly in how we have adopted technology into our daily lives. If you consider how different your lifestyle is compared to that of your grandparents or great grandparents when they were your age, there is very little in common and it is in these differences where we need to look for clues as to why people are gaining weight.

It is now recognised by leading obesity experts that what is being described as an obesity pandemic is primarily caused by the over consumption of nutrient poor- energy dense foods. Combined with the marked reduction in energy expenditure through less physical activity this has lead to a natural occurrence of weight gain at population levels.

The 2nd world war was a major boost for the technical revolution. In the race to see who could win Europe and build the atomic bomb science, engineering and manufacturing took huge strides forward in the development and production of everything we know today. As a result the following decades changed the pace of human life forever more.

During these productive post war decades we invented computers, machines and other labour saving devices for every possible human activity. Today this has drastically reduced the amount of physical effort that we need to apply thereby dramatically reducing our daily energy expenditure. The modern environment in which we live is now designed and built to incorporate and reduce physical activity. Cities are built around motor vehicles and transport links, convenience is the priority and it’s surrounding us everywhere. Energy and time consuming household chores once carried out by our grandparents are now a job for domestic appliances, email has replaced the posted letter and a microwave oven has replaced the home cooked meal. In fact you’re probably reading this on your smart phone or tablet device while on the train home from work!

The other major factor and more significant development from the industrial revolution are the changes in food production and manufacturing. As multi-national companies forever looked to increase their profit margins they employed scientists to come up with ways to genetically re-engineer food types and crops in order to obtain higher yields. These developments have led to dramatic differences in some of the basic foods that we eat today from how they looked in the time of our grandparents. Wheat is a good example of this. No longer is it the 4ft tall stalks blowing in the breeze, it is now only half as high and grows twice as quick – all in the name of profit.

Our modern day highly processed convenience foods are nothing like the foods we ate several decades ago, the high energy content in such foods and their over consumption through the normalising of snacking, treats and constant eating driven by mass marketing and advertising is making people gain weight and making the multi-nationals super rich.

The ‘Foresight report’, a study into obesity trends was published in October 2007 in the United Kingdom. It found that people have not become more gluttonous and do not have less will power than previous generations. We also know that human biology has not changed over this short time period either. What has changed dramatically over the last several decades is the society in which we live, primarily in work practices, increase in disposable income, travel and transport, social activities, food production, food marketing and sales. The speed of advancing technology has outrun human evolution and the resultant weight gain in some people is described as a normal reaction by normal people living in an abnormal environment. The consequence of technological advances is that most of us have become half as active as are parents were and most of our children are predicted to become half as active as we are.

It’s no coincidence that in the same past few decades the incidence of all types of lifestyle related disease has risen. Although the average life expectancy of people is longer than previous generations this is mainly due to the improvements in medications and surgical procedures. In fact medication is allowing people to live sick for longer. However, longer life expectancy is no indicator to the quality of life experienced by individuals. Greater numbers of people are now developing lifestyle related illnesses earlier in life; this in turn is causing much expense to governments and the health services and is becoming a huge burden on society as a whole.