Obesity is a major concern affecting society, with the condition affecting two-thirds of the adults and one-third of children in the US. The numbers have risen steadily since the 1980s across races, age groups and genders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) blames processed foods for the sharp rise in obesity levels. Processed foods are those which come in a packaging as well as most supermarket and fast food restaurant foods. Such foods are high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates and contain additives such as MSG and aspartame, all of which cause obesity. A study reported in Harvard magazine finds that children who ate processed fast foods consume 126 more calories than on days they did not, translating to 13 pounds of weight gain a year just from fast food.
What to do about processed foods causing obesity?
The obvious solution of simply cutting down on foods that cause obesity for healthier alternatives such as fruits and vegetables or home cooked food might not be as simple as it sounds.
Dr. David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner famous for his efforts to regulate cigarettes in the 1990s suggests in his book “The End of Overeating” that excessive fat, salt and sugar, a characteristic feature of processed foods stimulates the reward centers of the brain just as tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs do and as such, processed foods soon become addictive.
Dr Kessler blames the food industry for creating such “hedonic foods” or foods containing high fat, salt, and sugar, which are extremely palatable and tasty, so that people just cannot resist the temptation to consume more independent of their hunger levels. The fact such foods are socially acceptable and often cheaper and more easily available than healthier alternatives make people go back for more of such obesity causing foods.
Dr Kessler also blames parents for giving in to their children’s hedonic cravings early and conditioning their children for lifelong hyper-eating. Scientists studying food habits find a trend from the past 20 years of even infants and preschoolers consuming as much as 800 calories in one sitting. Serving large potions causes the brain’s appetite regulation system to break down. The child’s ability to regulate food intake decreases with age and as such children who eat larger portions early usually overeat throughout their lives.
Such constraints notwithstanding, the obvious solution on what to do about processed foods causing obesity is still refraining from consumption of processed foods. Opt for non-processed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole wheat, chicken, steak and other foods.
Secondly, cook at home as much as possible. Even an occasional visit to a restaurant can undo much of the weight loss effort with a single processed meal contributing as much as a gain of about five pounds.
Refraining from consumption of processed foods causing obesity is not always a viable option in today’s society. When eating processed or restaurant foods become unavoidable, adopt the following the best approaches:
- Choose healthy alternatives from the menu. The increasing health awareness of the populace means that most fast food establishments now have low calorie, low fat, and low carb food variants in the menu
- Choose popular but healthy items such as grilled salmon without salt, eggs, and so forth. Some healthy options include grilled chicken breast, turkey sandwiches, (low salt versions), green beans, most salads, fresh fruit juices over soda, carbonated beverages and other similar foods
- Adopt healthy eating tips such as sharing meals to reduce portion size and opting for a salad as the main course
The best solution against foods that cause obesity would be at a macro-level, with the food industry popularizing healthier alternatives to the obesity causing junk foods, funding research to provide such health food with the same taste as “hedonistic foods” and investing in supply chain management to ensure easy availability of such healthier alternatives.
A survey by Mintel reveals that 72 percent of parents consider that their children have too much access to junk foods that cause obesity, and 40 percent of them remain worried that their children will become obese. This means that the awareness of processed foods causing obesity exists. What is required is a conscious effort to do something about it.
- Harvard Magazine. “The Way We Eat Now.” https://harvardmagazine.com/2004/05/the-way-we-eat-now.html. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
- Bloomberg Businessweek. “Blaming the Food Industry for Obesity.” https://www.businessweek.com/careers/workingparents/blog/archives/2009/05/is_the_food_ind.html. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
- Janet Currie et al. (January 2009.) “The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity” https://www.econ.berkeley.edu/~sdellavi/wp/fastfoodJan09.pdf. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
- Kessler, David, A. “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite."
Image Credit: flickr.com/Eric Molina