By Dr. Mercola
The number of children under the age of 5 who are obese or overweight worldwide is an "exploding nightmare," according to a new report by the World Health Organization's (WHO) Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO).1,2
At least 41 million children now fall into this category, which is 10 million more than in 1990. And while rising obesity rates have long been a health issue plaguing developed countries, globalization and urbanization have driven up obesity rates in the developing world as well.
In 1990, there were 7.5 million overweight children in developing countries, which had doubled to 15.5 million by 2014.
In fact, due to widespread marketing of junk foods and sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, low- and middle-income countries now have more overweight and obese children than high-income countries, according to the WHO report.
Is Rising Obesity the Result of Natural Evolution?
In the U.S., about 75 percent of men and 67 percent of women are now either overweight or obese. This has risen significantly from figures gathered between 1988 and 1994, when "just" 63 percent of U.S. men and 55 percent of U.S. women were overweight or obese.3,4
Complicating matters, research published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that the same caloric intake and exercise program would result in a body mass index (BMI) that is about 5 pounds higher in 2006 than it would have been in 1988.5
In other words, in order to maintain the same weight as in 1988, today you'd need to exercise more and eat fewer calories. The results suggest "factors other than diet and physical activity may be contributing to the increase in BMI over time," but what factors, exactly?6
There are more than 100 possible causes of obesity published in peer-reviewed journals, according to Morgan Downey, past executive vice-president of the Obesity Society. This includes a laundry list of plausible explanations, like environmental pollution, stress and light at night.
Too much homework, hormone therapy, heat-producing fat cells and even living with grandparents have also been implicated.7 The truth is, there are probably numerous explanations for why humankind appears to be getting fatter.
One theory even posits that perhaps we're in the midst of an evolutionary blip, and obesity isn't a crisis at all but rather just the latest stage of evolution. As reported by the National Post:8
" … [A]s the race to find a 'cure' for obesity intensifies, emerging research is challenging the panic over our growing girth.
It suggests excess fat may not be putting most of us in mortal danger and proposes a provocative theory for our struggle to lose weight and keep it off: some kind of evolutionary shift in body shape is underway, a change perhaps like average height or the size of our brains, that will leave softer, doughier generations looking back at our hand-wringing and wondering what all the fuss was about.
… The medical mystery around weight loss also suggests another possibility: that we aren't, in fact, meant to return to a thinner ideal — that the changes to our average body size are just another example that human evolution didn't stop at the end of the Paleolithic era.
Daniel Lieberman, Ph.D. chairman of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, says, 'We have evidence that there is still selection going on.'
The famous Framingham Heart Study, which has followed thousands of ordinary people since the 1950s, shows in the last generation or two, 'there has been a slight, positive selection for women who are actually plumper' for genetic reasons.
Meaning: heavier women are more likely to get pregnant and have babies than those who are not."
The Case for Fat
A case could be made that humans are meant to be getting fatter, as there are many peculiarities in obesity research.
Some research has shown that being overweight may have a protective effect and is associated with lower all-cause mortality, although body mass index (BMI) is often used as a measure of obesity.9
BMI is a seriously flawed measurement tool, in part because it uses weight as a measure of risk, when it is actually a high percentage of body fat that increases your disease risk..
Certain genes have also been discovered that appear to be associated with obesity. For instance, people with two copies of the FTO gene mutation may have a 70 percent increased risk of obesity (but, interestingly, only in people born after 1942).10
But even David Meyre, Ph.D., a research chair in Genetic Epidemiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada who helped discover the FTO gene, doesn't believe this means humans are destined to be fat.
Exercise, he says, can overcome obesity-prone genetics by up to 75 percent. He told the National Post:11
"I don't think the next stage of evolution is to be fat.' If anything, he believes the next step in evolution may be to select for 'lean genes,' the way obesity genes were selected in the past."
Obesity Is a Leading Cause of Death
In 2014, a systematic review and meta-analysis that included data from more than 61,000 people found that obese individuals were more likely to die sooner or have heart-related problems than people of normal weight — even if they were otherwise healthy.
Research shows that nearly 1 in 5 U.S. deaths is associated with obesity.12 In the U.S., eight obesity-related diseases account for a staggering 75 percent of healthcare costs. These diseases include:
The four diseases in the left column are associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a common factor in obesity. However, several other diseases fall within this category as well, which are listed on the right. And many more could be added to that list.
According to the Surgeon General, in addition to the diseases mentioned above, obesity increases your risk for asthma, sleep disorders (including sleep apnea), depression, pregnancy complications and poor surgical outcomes.14
A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers even found that women who are obese during pregnancy have nearly double the risk of having a child with autism as those who are not obese. And for women who are both obese and have diabetes, the risk is quadrupled.15
An animal study published in The Journal of Neuroscience even found that mice put on an obesity-promoting diet had declines in memory function and suggested epigenetic dysregulation among obese mice may be to blame.16
Why Are People Getting Fatter?
Environmental and lifestyle factors appear to play a significant role in this trend. Part of the problem is that many people don't realize they're affected by these stealthy factors and therefore fail to address them. This includes:
- Overuse of antibiotics in food production and medicine
- Growth-enhancing drugs used in food animals
- Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides and plastics chemicals
- Inactivity and lack of sleep
- Aggressive marketing of harmful junk food
Highly processed genetically engineered (GE) foods are a primary culprit, as they're chockfull of ingredients that both individually and in combination contribute to metabolic dysfunction and hard-to-control weight gain.
GE corn syrup, trans fats, and GE sugar — along with heavily processed refined grains — these ingredients are now foundational in the U.S. diet and are increasingly found worldwide. There is virtually no doubt that they are primary contributors to Americans' failing health and rising rates of obesity.
Non-starchy, carb-rich, highly-processed (and typically genetically-engineered) foods, along with being in continuous feast mode, are primary drivers of these statistics. Wherever a highly processed food diet becomes the norm, obesity inevitably follows.
How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy
Most overweight Americans have some degree of insulin and leptin resistance. Generally, in order for you to significantly gain weight, you must first become leptin resistant. Leptin is a hormone that helps you regulate your appetite. When your leptin levels rise, it signals your body that you're full, so you'll stop eating. However, as you become increasingly resistant to the effects of leptin, you end up eating more.
Many people who are overweight also have an impairment in their body's ability to oxidize fat, which leads to a low-energy state. Dr. Richard Johnson's research clearly shows that refined sugar (in particular fructose) is exceptionally effective at causing leptin resistance in animals, and it's very effective at blocking the burning of fat. If you are insulin- or leptin-resistant, as long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you're programming your body to create and store fat.
This is one of the key reasons why, if you are overweight (which means you are also likely insulin or leptin resistant), it would be prudent for you to restrict your fructose consumption to about 15 to 25 grams of fructose per day from all sources. Not only will this help you to avoid additional weight gain, it will also help you to avoid further metabolic dysfunction.
You may find this fructose chart helpful in estimating how many grams of fructose you are consuming each day. Dietary sugar, especially fructose, is a significant "tripper of your fat switch," however, if you are serious about losing weight, you'll need a comprehensive plan that includes the following. This plan will help most people lose weight but, also, it will help you to gain metabolic health.
So even if your weight is normal, you can follow this plan to ensure that you're metabolically healthy as well.
- Eliminate or strictly limit fructose in your diet, and follow the healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan. Replace processed foods with real food.
- You can also use intermittent fasting strategically with this program to greatly boost your body's fat-burning potential. Intermittent fasting helps reset your body to use fat as its primary fuel, and mounting evidence confirms that when your body becomes adapted to burning FAT instead of sugar as its primary fuel, you dramatically reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Exercising in a fasted state (such as first thing in the morning) will bring it up yet another notch. A simple way to get started with intermittent fasting is to simply omit breakfast, making lunch the first meal of your day.
- Engage in high-intensity Peak Fitness exercise to burn fat and increase muscle mass (a natural fat burner). Also, strive to sit less (much less, such as only three hours a day) and walk 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day in addition to your regular exercise program.
Address the emotional component of eating. For this I highly recommend the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which helps eliminate your food cravings naturally.