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A Common Sense Look at Why Americans are Fat

Updated on June 27, 2013

Why Americans are Fat

By A. Gagliardi

According to the 2007 estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of U.S. adult women are overweight. It is a known fact that if you eat more calories than you expend, you will gain weight.

Ok, first off, it’s not just Americans that are getting fatter. People all over the world are getting fatter. I saw way too many women in bikini’s on the Mediterranean, last summer whose body called for a larger suit, whose children were slim & naked, but mama was thicker, fuller, more well-rounded than I had previously supposed Mediterranean women would be. And, surprisingly, there were plenty of overweight children all over Spain and Greece. In addition, on trips to Mexico & Venezuela and on the planes going and coming, I spied many overweight children and adults. So, let us not assume that it is only American’s of the United States that are gaining weight.

You can blame it on sodium, sugar, gluten intolerance, genetically altered foods, processed foods, or the change of world climate. But, if you look at weight with an ounce of common sense, the facts may change your mind.

There is more food available

There is literally, more food to be had, even for the poorest, especially in America. We have more food banks, food programs and more people on WIC than any other time in history. Yes, there are a few people still going hungry, but the percentage is smaller than you are led to believe. More people are eating more food, more of the time. This is the number one reason people are getting fatter.

Think about people like Frank McCourt who wrote Angela’s Ashes. He reported in that book the fact that they went for days without food; or survived on one crust of bread. Even our poorest can get to a shelter and get a meal. When was the last time you spend a day with only one, dry crust of bread?

There were great famines throughout history. We have not had a famine in recent years anywhere in the world. In Africa, as people were dying because of genocide, international agencies rushed food and medical supplies to them.

People have been overweight throughout history. It’s just that now, more people are overweight.

a. President of the United States and Chief Justice of the Supreme

Court William Howard Taft was overweight.

b. President & rough Rider, Teddy Roosevelt was also quite heavy

c. Henry VIII – later in life was very overweight

d. Winston Churchill was also overweight.

Over the last few generations, families have been able to eat more than the family they came from. My family (of ten) ate less food than my & my husband’s family of 6 ate, because there was more food available. There was a bigger variety of foods available for our family of 6; and we could afford to spend more money on foods. But, even so, my family of origin – that group of ten, ate better than the generation before them.

We have quicker access to foods, more often. Think about a pioneer family who needed to raise their own foods and got to a store perhaps once or twice a year. There wasn’t a McDonald’s, Caribou, or Dairy Queen near by. They didn’t have a super market stocked with fresh, canned, & frozen produce right around the corner. Vegetables and grains only grow so fast, so you have to wait for it. Also, fruit trees bore fruit during a specific season. If you didn’t get the fruit and process (can it) the fruit quickly, it would spoil.

I was working at the 410 (homeless) Shelter in Minneapolis about 15 years ago and overheard some of the patrons complaining because they were eating chicken again. “Why don’t they ever serve pork chops”, the person was saying. And I felt a twinge of anger at the speaker because I was going home to another meatless meal (which is what we could afford at the time) and they had the nerve to complain about which type of meat they were getting for free. My point being that there is enough food for even the homeless. Enough so they feel the prerogative to complain about the food they get.

There happens to be more food available to more of the population than ever before. We have food banks and a variety of places for homeless people to go to get a hot meal. In Mpls. (called “Moneyappolis” by many newly arrived homeless folks.), we have meals available for school children through the parks and along with the before/after school programs. Children get fed more regularly.

There is also a bigger variety of foods more of the year. I can get apples, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuces, carrots and other fresh fruits & vegetables anytime of the year at area grocery stores. This is true all over American and in most 1st tier countries.

The Women’s Health web page proclaims that “48 Million people are at risk for going hungry” as an ad for their 10 K run. The key words here are “at risk for”. This ad did not say – 48 million people are starving. It said folks are at risk of going hungry. If we continue to worry about that, more folks will, indeed be fatter than if they actually did go hungry.

Healthier life styles

The environment provides healthier life-style, so our energy can be spent on growing instead of staying well. Better medicine, more readily available, sanitary conditions for more of the population means children can spend their energy growing instead of surviving.

Cleanliness habits, such as washing foods before eating and washing our hands before eating and prevents many infections such as dysentery which weakened and killed many children in previous generations.

If children have sickness or infections, they spend calories getting well, and tend to not feel like eating. When children have diarrhea, they expel the calories they might otherwise use to grow.

Our medical advances have made it possible for children to avoid the childhood diseases of past generations. In addition, the availability of medical help prevents children (and adults) from lingering with an illness for weeks and months at a time.

Eating Everything is a Survival Instinct

Our ancestors – going back to cave man days, now – were survivalists.

They would eat everything they found, killed or foraged because foods did not last. That kind of thinking is almost genetically programmed so our species continues to exist. Now, that we have ample amounts of foods, we have not been able to turn off the ‘eat everything now’ button. The tendency to over eat is still with us. It takes tremendous amounts of restraint to NOT EAT when food is presented to us.

Food used to spoil fairly quickly until we learned how to refrigerate, freeze, and can food. Those nasty preservatives that we all exclaim about actually keep our food safe for longer periods of time. So the advances people have made in preserving food have helped us have more food around more of the time.

With more food, more often people really are bigger. Women have gotten taller; their feet have gotten bigger. Interestingly;

“We may be pleased to be taller (the average woman is now 5ft 4in), but our feet have splayed out to a size 6 and we're half a stone heavier. Meanwhile, our hour-glass has rolled into a barrel-like 38-34-40, and many would struggle to get into a size 14.

'We found that hips were an inch-and-a-half bigger, as were busts; then when we got to the waists and found sixanda-half inches difference, it was: "Wow - everyone, man and woman, has a belly now",' explains Philip Treleaven, professor of computing, from University College, London, who led the research.” From:

People are performing less physical labor

People are not doing as much physical labor as before. We need to work at it, to get our 10,000 steps in daily. Previous generations did not have to work at getting many more than 10,000 steps each day. Famers worked from sun up to sun down – again, literally. People had to walk places, ride horses places or just not get there. A tidbit in the July/August 2013 issue of Health Magazine that the average number of steps Americans are averaging about 5,117 per day, instead of 10,000.

With every advancement in technology people have had to work less and less. Inside stoves instead of a fireplace; refrigerators, inside plumbing, washing machines, dryers, microwaves, mixing machines, blenders, instamatic choppers. With each time saving invention, women especially, have less physical work to do. Have you tried to whip up ‘instant frosting’ without using an electric mixer? If you used a wire whip instead of your electric mixer, you would not have to do any upper arm exercises that is for sure.

Even farmers do less physical labor, even though they work hard enough. They do not have to walk behind a mule steering a plow and plop each seed in the ground by hand. That is progress. But, my point again, is that with every progression, a corresponding regression in physical activity happens. Eventually there is a tipping point when the advancements make less work a problem. That time has come.

It’s been estimated that women in the 1950’s burned more than 1,000 calories a day doing housework (and other activities) compared to women today burning about 556 calories.

Fewer Clothing Restrictions

Women wore corsets. That is one simple thing that really made a difference. When women burned their bras in the 1960’s, we didn’t really burn our bras. What we did do was throw away the girdles, which were the modern version of a corset. What a relief it was to “let it all hang out”! That one act instantly made us feel better, made us look ‘five pounds’ heavier and took the restrictions from our mid-section.

The corsets were worn to shape the torso, slim the body and make it conform to the fashion silhouette of the day, beginning in the late 17800's and moving through to the early to mid 1900's. For women, this meant having an hour-glass figure.

By using a technique called "tight lacing" which was a corset with laces that could be tighten or loosened, people (men and women) could learn to tolerate extreme waist constriction, which was said to eventually reduce their natural waist to something smaller. Corsets can be worn today and it is possible to reduce your waist from 2 to 4 inches.

The corset squeezed the organs together. If a girl started wearing a corset as a young teenager, her rib cage would fail to get bigger, there would be less room for her organs and less room in her stomach for food.

Corsets were and are a real physical restriction.They cannot easily be worn during exercise or heavy physical activity.

Think about how tall your grandmother is and how tall you are. We can see the results of more food on recent Hmong immigrants who get taller and fatter as they grow accustomed to having enough, and more than enough to eat every day.

Body Types Differ

Face it, body types differ and some body types are really stockier, plumper than what we are being told is the ‘ideal’ body shape. Also, if we speak of the ‘ideal’ body shape, common sense tells us that everyone cannot be ideal. It’s like the common myth that schools can ‘close the achievement gap’, when common sense tells us that there will always be a gap in learners of some sort or another. The bell curve shows us that the majority of folks (no matter what we measure) are in the middle. Then there are the out-layers on both ends of the continuum. That is also true of weight.

So, why are we killing ourselves to be ideal when common sense tells us that not everyone can be slim and thin and “ideal”? Our society is obsessed with a body that is young, slim and toned. That works for a certain percentage of the population, but not even close to the majority.

This is not to give you just cause to slump on the couch and eat. It is to say, be healthy with your own body type. Get fit the way your body can get fit. Then, again easier said than done, don't fret about not being a size zero, tall and slender willow of a woman or a tall dark, full head of hair guy with six-pack abs. Be the best YOU, you can be.

Diseases come with weight gain

The Important thing about weight is the diseases that comes with it: congestive heart failure and diabetes are the big ones; but, also, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, arthritis, gallbladder disease and some kinds of cancer. I get it. It’s true that these diseases are tied to being overweight. It is true that we consume more calories than we use up. Hence the weight gain.

It is easy to say: “STOP EATING, FOLKS!” Of course, this is easier said than done - and for many reasons. Companies offer liposuction and plastic surgery because they know just how hard it is to live in a society of plenty and deny yourself the very food in front of you.

I see commercials on TV for Weight Watchers or some diet pill, followed by a fast food commercial or a “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee” commercial. How fair is that? Again, it is a test of will to loose weight once it is gained.

In addition to more food available more of the time, the types of foods available are more fattening.The following facts mean that more Americans are getting diseases that come with over-consumption.

  1. Americans eat 10% more fat than we did in the first half of the 1900’s. (Consumption is up from 30% to 40% of our calories from fat.)
  2. Americans eat twice as much sugar as we did in the first half of the 1900’s.
  3. We consume much more processed foods and more junk food than our ancestors.

Genetics Matter

I like to remind myself that, “age and genetics overcome youth and good looks”. I remember my mother had a large belly. She worked hard all her life; she birthed and raised eight children and worked outside the home. She was not a woman to sit down and relax for any length of time, but, she still had a larger belly than she liked. Of course, being pregnant that many times does a lot to stretch out the stomach muscles. I was helping her get dressed in her later years, and thought, “If she would just do a few sit-ups, she could flatten her belly.” Now, I am almost the age she was then, and “If only I would do – say 10,000 sit-ups every day, I could flatten my belly.”

My Paternal grandfather also had a very large barrel chest – that extended through his abdomen. So, genetically, I get the large belly from both sides of the family. My daughters thank me for passing on this genetic tidbit.

Aging impacts our figure

As we age, every body becomes less toned, thicker around the middle and ‘fluffier’. If you look back, over your National Geographics from years ago, you will see that even in the bush cultures, older people are heavier. Older people all over the world are mostly thicker, heavier, and less toned than younger people. It is called aging. Yes. There are those who remain thin all their lives, but again, that is one body type among several.

I look around at my friends and neighbors who have reached the ripe age of 60 and beyond. Their stomachs hang out more than before. It is an epidemic of stomachs, and a sign of aging.

As you age, you lose muscle, especially if you are not exercising, so says Michael D. Jensen, M.D., an endocrinology specialist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn in Men's Health, online Magazine.

As our population ages, more people are going to be larger around the middle, less toned and seen against that ideal image as overweight.

Just like my mother, women who bear children have stretched stomach muscles to a certain point. Another of my favorite quotes is: “The brain is like a rubber band, when stretched to a new idea, it never returns to the same size.” That stretching and not returning to it’s same size goes for the woman’s body also. Very few women get their girlish figure back after having a baby.

People are living longer

Although statistics say our overweight children may not live as long as we do, more people are living into their 90s and past 100. There are going to be illnesses that go along with aging. Our ancestors lived to be 40 or so. They didn’t have time to get diabetes or heart failure, which for many comes on in their 50’s or 60’s.

The childhood diseases that our ancestors died from are not so much a threat today. Diseases such as measles, chicken pox, polio, and whooping cough are under control. More of the population are living longer because of the elimination of childhood disease, taking vitamins, and the availability of more food. These things do help people live longer. But, they don't help people stay thin longer.

Social Attitude Impacts Weight

Have it your way!”You deserve a break today.” are very different messages than were heard in the early 1900’s and even before that. “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” was more like it.Today we would say, "suck it up" or "Put on your big-girl panties and deal with it." - And we really may have to put on "big-girl panties" because of our larger girth.

A hard day’s work for a day’s pay was the more the norm. Wages were a pittance and workers were expected to work everyday. Witness Scrooge and his employee Bob Cratchet, who had to beg for Xmas day off and promise to work late the day before and come in early the day after.

- During the 17th century it was desirable to be fat. King Charles X of Sweden was “reasonably fat”.

- Today, it is more popular and desirable to be thin, toned and “fit”.


So, in our angst to be thin, let us consider all the reasons we got in this predicament: our genetics, our advanced age, disease control, the availability of healthy food, the bra burning done in the 60s, the modern conveniences we are privileged to have access to, which all contribute to the somewhat self-indulgent problem we are faced with today.

With each advancement, we eliminate a problem or two. But, when one thing changes, so do all the other things in the constellation of our lives and the universe. Now we much change again in order to re-balance the mobile of our lives. Our new challenge is to live a healthy life, knowing what we know about keeping our bodies fit and healthy. But, we also need to remember that staying thin will be a challenge that will be hard-fought because of who we are.

So with your aging body, your body type and your genetics working for you; with the social voice saying you can have it all - "Do you want fries with that?" sounding in your ear; and with the facts that a calorie is still a calorie and if you consume more than you expend, you will still gain weight, I wish you all the best of luck.

Are you up to the challenge? I'm rooting for ya'.


Health, July/August 2013, vol 27. No. 6., publisher Kevin White.

Women’s Health magazine at:

Women’s Health organization at:

Men's Health Magazine at:


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    • agaglia profile image

      agaglia 3 years ago

      Hi ThoughtsWriter,

      You are right. It is a huge problem. One that each individual needs to solve for themself, in daily choices about moving, exercise, walking or not, etc. and daily choices about the types and amounts we eat.

    • ThoughtsWriter profile image

      ThoughtsWriter 3 years ago from America

      I can see all of this, but is it really a huge problem if we are getting fatter?

    • agaglia profile image

      agaglia 4 years ago

      Hi johsonrallen,

      That is so true. walking to our destination is something Americans don't do much. We don't feel we have the time. it's a shame, really.

    • johnsonrallen profile image

      Robert Allen Johnson 4 years ago from Fort Wayne, IN

      Having lived overseas in three other countries, I've discussed this topic with my wife a few times. I think one reason that actually goes along with the physical labor section is the fact that most Americans drive cars everywhere they go. While living in Thailand and the Philippines, I walked miles and miles every day, many times in the scorching heat. It was quite easy to lose the pounds and keep them off when that's a part of your daily lifestyle!

    • agaglia profile image

      agaglia 4 years ago

      Hi Jackie,

      Yes. I notice so many over-weight children too. I feel sad knowing that they are at risk for so many health problems because of it. And it is so much harder to loose weight once you are obese.

    • agaglia profile image

      agaglia 4 years ago


      You said the magic words. If you "start to gain, then it's time to review the facts and alter the consumption accordingly. "

      If we would/ could all do that, then there would be less of an obesity problem in the USA.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I keep my weight in check but it can be a battle sometimes and for health and sanitation reasons I rarely eat fast food. I do notice so many over-weight children and cannot understand any mother letting that happen. What a horrible way to begin life.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 4 years ago from TEXAS

      I am in the 40% of Americans who are not fat, but, sadly, many of my younger relatives are. It's tragic, really.

      I'm 81 and weigh what I weighed at 19, and a little less (116#). At times, I've weighed considerably less than I did then, as little as 102#, - but never more than 119#. My sister told me that if I found my ideal weight at 19, I'd always be able to maintain it.

      Perhaps it was partly positive expectation that I was always able to but it rested on the sensible life-time eating and exercise habits. At times my metabolism may be higher & I can handle more calories. But if I start to gain, then it's time to review the facts & alter the consumption accordingly!

      The first sentence in your hub is the crux of the matter: "It is a known fact that if you eat more calories than you expend, you will gain weight." Thanks for an intelligent article!


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