As a burgeoning young healthcare professional, I’ve always been curious about the American public’s state of health. We’ve all heard the statistics. As a nation about 1/3 of adults are overweight and 1/3 are obese. Truly astounding and no doubt has profound impacts on our nation from not only a health perspective but an economic perspective as well. How did we get here? Was it simply our fate as technology progressed? Do modern Americans just lack the work ethic of their earlier counterparts? (Good luck blaming this one on millennials.) I think there is much more to this story.
Take a moment and digest the chart below…hard to swallow….you could say it is not very appeeling…in fact, it made my heart skip a beet. I’m done.
From this data provided by the CDC it’s like Atlas gave a mighty shrug and pushed the obesity line steadily up beginning in the 70’s. To see a possible impetus for this, let us look at the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) publication, America’s Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences. This is the organization that has provided America with dietary recommendations for over 100 years.
In chapter two the authors examined how these recommendations have changed over time. From the 1940’s to 70’s the authors emphasize the focus at that time was on getting sufficient nutrients and “little guidance was provided about the use of fats and sugars.” In fact, there weren’t even portion recommendations laid out. Our data here doesn’t quite go back that far, but the old using my phone as a straight edge trick tells me that the 60’s were pretty flat in terms of obesity growth. The opposite of what bellies were to become.
In the 70’s the Beatles broke up, dietary recommendations changed and the world was never the same. The text reads, “By the 1970’s, a growing body of research had related over consumption of certain food components – fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium – and the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke.” Okay, great. We have a relationship. Seems to me like a relationship requires further investigation to see if these two individuals, lipids and chronic diseases, should be married together. Did that happen? No. Was the US having an obesity epidemic? Not exactly. Did the USDA make recommendations for hundreds of millions of American citizens based on a correlation? Yes. Now pick up that phone of yours again and tell me what year you think that recommendation was made. If you were close to 1977 pat yourself on the back. (If you weren’t, throw your phone away because clearly it’s not a “smart” phone.) Nineteen seventy-seven is the EXACT year that the Senate Selection Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs outlined a new path to combat these supposedly heinous lipids and the USDA fully backed the vision to progress to a brave new world by its recommendations in 1979. Atlas shrugged.
“Seems to me like a relationship requires further investigation to see if these two individuals, lipids and chronic diseases, should be married together. Did that happen? No.”
The USDA has continued to strengthen these positions in the ensuing decades despite a continued lack of causative data. By 1990, the US was not obese enough for their liking so for the first time they made numerical guidelines for fat consumption: 30 percent or less of calories for total fat and 10 percent or less for saturated fat. Did the slope of our obesity line decrease? The answer is an unequivocal no. If anything it accelerated!
On the surface the recommendations make logical sense. Eat fat —> get fat. But the body is so much more complex than this and the medical community’s arrogance to make such bold dietary guidelines with such little respect for metabolic cascades floors me every time. Fat does not get deposited directly to our love handles after ingestion. Dietary cholesterol doesn’t go straight for our arteries. Dietary fat is crucial for a healthy body and its importance in hunger modulation cannot be overstated. Cutting fat from a diet brings about a new beast. Let us munch on this graph for a discussion to follow in the future.
Before I leave I feel compelled to say that of course body weight is not the be all, end all of a healthy body and absolutely does not define a person. I try my best to value everyone as an individual and I am also strongly drawn towards valuing everyone’s health as well. My greatest hope is that I have arisen a skepticism of traditional food recommendations. I encourage everyone to experiment with their own bodies and find what is optimal.
Update Sep. 2016: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html?_r=0&