Why America is Overweight, Part IV: Other

We all know people who say “No matter how hard I try I can’t lose weight,” and they’re probably right. Besides the obvious things like calorie intake, the kinds of foods we eat, activity levels and exercise, there are other factors which influence our weight. These factors alone or in combination, contribute to our ability to maintain a normal weight. Some are listed here, in no particular order of importance.

Socioeconomic: Not everyone has the means to buy so-called healthy food. Let’s face it – when you’re concerned about feeding a hungry family, your food dollars may go farther buying mac and cheese and hot dogs instead of apples and a head of Romaine. Almost any food can be “good” food in the right amounts (i.e cheese in moderation), but if your budget only allows you to buy McDonald’s value meals, then it’s going to be difficult to keep a normal weight. Economics influences one’s ability to exercise as well. If your neighborhood is not a safe place to walk or bike, and you can’t afford a gym membership or exercise equipment, then it’s difficult to exercise.

Time: Committing to an exercise program requires a certain amount of time each day. Besides the time spent in the exercise itself (maybe 30-60 minutes) there may be travel time to get to a gym, or drop the kids off at daycare. Don’t forget the time it takes to change into exercise clothes, warm-up, cool-down, shower, and put away your equipment and sweaty clothes. All this, plus you still have to do all the other things each day that are good for you, like flossing, working, doing household chores, reading to your kids, calling your mom, and scheduling your colonoscopy. For time-crunched people, fitting in that 30-60+ minutes for exercise every day may just be the last straw.

Genetics: There is a large body of literature regarding genetic factors that may contribute to weight gain. Much of this is technical literature which some readers may choose to explore. Some explore genetic predisposition to obesity, obtained by studying overweight families, twins raised separately, and adopted children. Some we’ve heard about in the news – leptin deficiency for one, which at first seemed to be a promising answer to weight loss, but not necessarily borne out in research. Genetics factors also influence how our bodies store fat. Those who tend to store fat around their waist rather than hips often seem to have a harder time losing weight. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/e_txtbk/txgd/4112.htm

Plenty of information is available online.

Disease conditions: Obesity goes hand in hand with conditions such as metabolic syndrome and polycystic ovary syndrome. These conditions not only contribute to obesity, but also make it harder to lose weight. Readers who want more information can find plenty online.



Medication: Some medications contribute to weight gain or weight loss. Major common culprits are medicine for depression and serious mental illnesses. Minor culprits are sedating antihistamines (Benadryl, maybe Zyrtec) amitryptiline (Elavil), muscle relaxants, hormones/birth control, prednisone. Sometimes the benefit received from the medication is so vital that it outweighs the risk of being overweight. Sometimes an alternative medication may work just as well, but have less weight gain. If you think your medication is causing weight gain, do not stop taking it on your own, but consult your health care provider.

So, what’s a person to do? If you are overweight, take a hard look at what may be contributing to it in your life. Change what you can, ask for help with what you can’t. Partner with your health care provider and don’t lose hope. Post your comments on what works for you.







Why America is Overweight, Part III: Liquid Calories

Which came first, the cup holder or the cup? America’s consumption of liquids has become ubiquitous. Seldom do we see anyone anymore walking around without carrying some kind of drink. Sometimes it’s water, but often it’s a fancy coffee drink, soda, diet or regular, energy drink, Gatorade, or the ever popular Mountain Dew.

I’m not sure how Americans became so obsessed with consuming liquids. In the “good old days when I was a kid” (sorry, I hate to keep bringing this up) one did not see people walking around carrying drinks. People drank milk, coffee or water with meals, not soda, which was for special treats. They only drinks that came in individual serving bottles were soda and beer, which were packaged in glass bottles with a  metal cap that could only be opened with a bottle opener. It was difficult to carry around this kind of bottle because it was not reclosable, so people tended to drink it where they were, like at a movie, ball park or bar, and then were done with it. Coffee was served in porcelain cups in restaurants and was not available in disposable cups “to go.” If you wanted to carry a liquid with you, it would have to be in a canteen, which meant you were a boy or girl scout, and were on a camping trip. If people needed drinks while they were out, they used a drinking fountain. Cars, strollers and grocery carts did not have cup holders.

Somehow Americans went from this to the today’s model, where almost everyone is carrying around something to drink. I suspect the marketing of drink products is a large contributor to this paradigm shift, as well as a change in sales models, with increased access to beverage products through vending machines, self-serve soda counters in restaurants and grocery stores, “free” refills, Starbucks and the like on every corner, and individually packaged everything from juice boxes to Gatorade. If beverages are vigorously marketed, convenient to obtain, and easy to carry, then Americans are likely to drink up. 

So what’s wrong with consuming beverages? We’ve all heard the old adage that we should drink eight glasses of water daily. The problem is, for the most part, it’s not only water that we’re drinking. The relationship between weight gain and liquid calories has been rigorously studied. Some conclude that liquids, while providing calories, do not trigger a sensation of satiety (fullness) to the body, so we remain hungry, despite having ingested calories. Others have shown a relationship between weight gain and sugar-laden beverage consumption, whether the sugar source is high fructose corn syrup or sucrose, just from the sheer increase in calorie consumption. Others note that we have increased the calorie content of our meals by adding soda instead of water, and in larger portions with aka big gulp size cups and free refills. 

In short, we are consuming more calories but not satisfying our hunger, we are finding it easier to buy and carry liquids with us, and are consuming larger portions than in previous times.  All factors together contribute to more weight. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30070941/

So what about diet soda? While diet soda has few calories, the sweet taste triggers a desire for more food. http://diet.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Diet_Soda_Weight_Gain In addition, others have found that diet soda  confuses our body’s regulatory system between hunger and weight gain, changes our taste sensation, making other foods taste bland in comparison to the taste of diet soda, and seems to affect weight gain in ways that remain unexplained http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2010/01/03/three-reasons-to-rethink-that-diet-coke-youre-about-to-drink/

Popular culture and strong sales and marketing influences encourages us to over-consume beverages. Super-thin Rachel on Friends was always drinking Diet Coke. Elaine couldn’t enter Jerry’s apartment on Seinfeld without going to the fridge for a bottle of something. Our celebrities and favorite TV characters  are drinking giant flavored coffees (they don’t even come in “small”) at (gasp) 710 calories a pop. 

“A large Starbucks Mocha Coconut Frappuccino with whipped cream adds a whopping 710 calories and
26 grams of fat” http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56554

Think about your liquid consumption. If you’re drinking more than water and not liking what you see on the scale, think again. If you’ve been able to lose weight but cutting liquid calories, share your results.