An estimated 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight. To put that in perspective, the entire population of the United States is 327 million. There are more obese adults living in America today (78 million) than in any other country in the world.
- 75% of American men are obese or overweight, and 60% of American women are obese or overweight.
China follows the U.S. at a distant second with 46 million obese individuals, and India comes in third in the world with 30 million. These 3 countries together represent 15% of the entire world’s obese population.
- Being overweight is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) or weight-to-height ratio, greater than or equal to 25 and lower than 30, while obesity is having a BMI equal to or greater than 30.
Health risks such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and chronic kidney disease increase when a person’s BMI exceeds 23. In 2010, obesity and overweight were estimated to have caused 3.4 million deaths globally, most of which were from cardiovascular causes. Research indicates that if left unaddressed, the rise in obesity could lead to future declines in life expectancy in countries worldwide. (10)
There’s no doubt overweight and obesity itself is an epidemic here in America, but the real question we want to answer is whether or not poor diet is the cause of this growing prevalence of chronic disease experienced in the last several decades in the U.S.
Is poor diet the cause of our chronic disease epidemic?
It’s important to note that you do not have to be overweight or obese to develop a chronic health condition. Many people with weight perfectly within normal limits still die from heart disease, cancer, strokes, COPD, diabetes, and many other chronic conditions every year.
So does that rule out poor diet as a cause of chronic diseases? No. Because you do not have to be overweight or obese to have a poor diet. Many people are able to maintain their normal weight while eating a diet high in toxins, preservatives, calories, and low in nutrition and fiber.
Scientists know for a fact that the typical American diet or, as it’s commonly referred to, the Standard American Diet (SAD), is to blame for at least some of the chronic health conditions that are plaguing our society today.
What is the Standard American Diet?
The Standard American Diet is a modern dietary pattern that is generally characterized by high intakes of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, fried foods, high-fat dairy products, eggs, refined grains, potatoes, corn (and high-fructose corn syrup), and high-sugar drinks.
Standard American Diet:
- High intake of red meat
- Processed meat
- Pre-packaged foods
- Fried foods
- High-fat dairy products
- Refined grains
- Corn (and high-fructose corn syrup)
- High sugar drinks
The modern Standard American Diet was brought about by fundamental lifestyle changes following the Neolithic Revolution, and later, the Industrial Revolution. By contrast, a healthy diet has higher proportions of unprocessed fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole-grain foods, poultry, and fish.
A Healthy Diet:
- Unprocessed fruits
- Whole-grain foods
The average American consumes more than 3,600 calories daily – a 24% increase from 1961 when the average was just 2,880 calories. (11) Many times, the overall nutritional quality of the specific foods is very poor. Complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables are much healthier than processed sugar and junk foods so frequently consumed in the Standard American Diet.
- The average American consumes more than 3,600 calories daily with typically low nutritional quality of today’s food. Too many simple carbohydrates are consumed in the Standard American Diet, where complex carbohydrates (fruits and veggies) are healthy, and in contrast, simple carbohydrates (processed sugar and junk food) are not healthy.
Today, the average American consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year. That’s 3 pounds of sugar consumed per week! What’s even more shocking is when you compare today’s American to the average American 200 years ago, who consumed only 2 pounds of sugar per year. It’s possible that processed sugar could be the culprit behind this chronic disease epidemic. (12)
- The average American consumes more than 3,600 calories daily.
- The average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar per year.
- The average American 200 years ago consumed only 2 pounds of sugar per year.
- Complex sugar (fruits and veggies) are healthy.
- Simple sugar (processed sugar and junk food) is not healthy and consumed in excess over a long period could be a cause of chronic disease.
How does sugar affect your body?
According to WebMD, there’s no doubt that large amounts of sugar over time can have a negative effect on many areas of your health. They say that sugar, when consumed in excess, can negatively affect everything from your brain, mood, teeth, joints, skin, liver, heart, pancreas, kidneys, body weight, and even your sexual health.
Sugary drinks, candy, baked goods, and sweetened dairy are the main sources of added sugar. But even savory foods, like bread, tomato sauce, and protein bars, can have sugar, making it all too easy to end up with a surplus of the sweet stuff in your daily diet.
To further complicate it, companies add sugar to their products to improve taste; added sugars can be hard to spot on nutrition labels since they can be listed under a number of names, such as corn syrup, agave nectar, palm sugar, cane juice, or sucrose. (13)
Whether you are suffering from chronic health conditions or just trying to prevent them, a great starting point is to clean up your diet. A poor diet may not be the only cause of chronic health conditions, but it’s certainly one of them.
Here are some foods I would recommend reducing or eliminating from your diet:
- Red meat, Processed meat, Pre-packaged foods, Margarine, Fried foods, Milk, Refined grains, Potatoes, Corn (especially high-fructose corn syrup), and high sugar drinks. Eliminate all processed sugar, fast food, and junk food from your diet.
Here are some foods you should add to your diet:
- Unprocessed fruits and vegetables, Nuts, Seeds, Whole-grain foods, Poultry, and Fish.
Remember, there’s always a better way, and it starts with finding better food options.
Here are some tips and strategies for reducing the amount of sugar you consume in your diet:
- Instead of drinking soda pop, try drinking flavored seltzer water. You still get the taste and sensation, while avoiding a large amount of processed sugar.
- Instead of a candy bar or some other kind of sugary junk food, try eating fresh fruit, dried fruit, raw veggies (like carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and bell pepper), or even a bowl of granola and fruit with some almond milk instead. You’ll still satisfy your sweet tooth, but you’ll skip a lot of the processed sugar.
- Instead of a cookie, try a crunchy fruit like an apple or pear. You’ll get the sweet taste and the snappy crunch with less processed sugar.
- Instead of ice-cream, try a frozen juice pop or whip up a smoothie made with whey protein and frozen fruit and berries. It’s delicious and a much better alternative.
Don’t miss the next article in this series as we’ll be discussing another one of the possible causes of chronic diseases in our country. The American health care system is broken. We must find A Better Way.
- National Council on Aging – Approximately 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease, and 77% have at least two. – https://www.ncoa.org/news/resources-for-reporters/get-the-facts/healthy-aging-facts/
- Children’s Health Defense – https://childrenshealthdefense.org/too-many-sick-children/
- An Empirical Study of Chronic Diseases in the United States: A Visual Analytics Approach to Public Health – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5876976/
- World Health Organization – Top 10 Causes of Death – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
- Nearly 7 in 10 Americans Take Prescription Drugs, Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center Find – https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/nearly-7-in-10-americans-take-prescription-drugs-mayo-clinic-olmsted-medical-center-find/
- World Health Organization’s ranking of the world’s health systems 2000 – https://photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html
- National Health Expenditures 2017 Highlights – https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/highlights.pdf
- How does health spending in the U.S. compare to other countries? – https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/health-spending-u-s-compare-countries/#item-relative-size-wealth-u-s-spends-disproportionate-amount-health
- Western pattern diet – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_pattern_diet
- American adults are overweight or obese – https://www.healthdata.org/news-release/vast-majority-american-adults-are-overweight-or-obese-and-weight-growing-problem-among
- 6 charts that show how much more Americans eat than they used to – https://www.businessinsider.com/daily-calories-americans-eat-increase-2016-07
- How Much Sugar Do You Eat? You May Be Surprised! – https://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf
- How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body? – https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/features/how-sugar-affects-your-body
- Lack of exercise as ‘deadly’ as smoking – https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/lack-of-exercise-as-deadly-as-smoking/
- How Lack of Exercise Affects Health – https://www.priorityhealthyorkville.com/how-lack-of-exercise-affects-health/
- Environmental Toxins and Your Health – https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/transcripts/1622_environmental-toxins-and-your-health
- Vaccine Excipient Summary – https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/b/excipient-table-2.pdf
- Tech Neck – How Technology Is Affecting Your Posture – https://www.ivyrehab.com/news/tech-neck-how-technology-is-affecting-your-posture/