Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

Photo of Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

The Beginning of Good News on Obesity?

There are two recent reports from the United States Center for Disease Control about obesity and calorie consumption that make me a bit more optimistic that the obesity epidemic might be cresting.   The first report shows what looks like the beginning of a decline in calorie consumption by kids over the last 10 years but especially during the last 5 years.   The figure below is taken from this report.  There are all sorts of caveats about this data but it is promising and seems to correlate with the idea that childhood obesity is leveling off and perhaps even declining a bit in some regions.  However, there were differences in various ethnic groups.




The next figure from the report shows that much of the change in overall calorie consumption is a result of a decline in carbohydrate consumption among whites. This might be a result of efforts to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks that are working in that subgroup or the population.




The second report is about adults and it focuses on who is eating how much fast food and what the impact of this consumption is on obesity.  The next figure shows more fast food consumption by obese individuals in every age group.   Again there are caveats with this data, but the message is pretty clear that consuming a lot of fast food is a big risk factor for obesity.   If you want to read more about how people get addicted to certain types of food, here is a link to a long article from the New York Times on how the food industry has learned to develop products that really tickle our taste buds and leave us craving even more.




A Personal Experience & These Findings

I am somewhere between 6’4” and 6’5” (195 cm).  At the end of August I weighed about 205 pounds (92.5kg).   About that time my wife got the junk food (notably chips, crackers and ice cream) out of the house.  I also started to limit my consumption of Dr. Pepper from about 1-2 cans per day to a couple per week and when hungry at work I now snack on either protein bars or apples and bananas.   Since that time I have lost about 8 pounds (3.5kg).   We were also pretty disciplined about having a few holiday treats, but after a cookie or two, trashing the rest.  As you might imagine I am pretty physically active, but this time of year I am less active because I stop riding my bike to work when the roads get icy in November.    So, this weight loss happened during a time of the year I have typically gained a couple of pounds (1kg) in the past, and I have seen a direct correlation between what the data in the charts tells us and my own body weight.   The take home messages from all of this might go something like this:

  • Groups and individuals who reduce their consumption of sugar and fast food/junk food lose weight, don’t gain weight, or don’t gain as much weight.  All good things.
  • If you are physically active, small changes in your diet can make a big, big difference.   When in doubt have an apple.  If you do get the junk food out of the house and moderate what you eat when not at home the weight seems to come right off.
  • After a couple of months of change I don’t miss having a bowl of ice cream at night.
  • Small changes over time make a big difference.

Good luck with your goals and I want to emphasize again that a collection of small changes over time can make a big difference whatever your goals.


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