Two stories I noticed in the last week add to the long list of culprits for the obesity epidemic, invention of microwave ovens and not getting enough sleep.

Blaming microwaves seems a bit unfair. What they are really saying is that microwaves, combined with ready meals and the freezer have encouraged people to take an easy option when preparing dinners. Its increased consumption of ‘ready meals’, fizzy drinks and other processed foods that are high in fats and sugars that is the culprit. The introduction of corn syrup into processed food, and fizzy drinks hasn’t helped.

The sleep story was interesting, epidemiologists have shown before that more sleep correlates with slimness but this small study, (which needs more corroboration) showed that tired people eat badly. After a bad or short night’s sleep the subjects were less likely to cook their own food and more likely to rely on eating out or takeaway food. ‘Ready meals’ again. I know that feeling, especially on Fridays after a hard day blogging (and a few other tasks).

These two stories just indicate the complexity of the origins of the current obesity epidemic. Obesity seems to really be a result of changes in our general lifestyle in the last few decades: cars, televisions, (and adverts on television), computers, less manual labour generally (housework was a pretty good workout when there were no labour saving devices), cheap, more processed food, supermarket shopping, women working outside the home…. To tackle it I think the environment needs to change as well as our behaviour.

We could try turning the clock to when hardly anyone had a car, or central heating or telly and food was less processed and people ate their main meal at lunchtime. Could be hard.

Then again think about what might happen when the oil runs out or we start rationing carbon consumption?

Nutrition and food sciences database covers all the research that has gone into the causes of obesity and there is a recent review on prevalence and causes of obesity in children too.

Here’s a smattering of further reading selected from Nutrition and Food Sciences database including something to try yourself:

Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Bray, G. A. , Nielsen, S. J. , Popkin, B. M. / American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004, Vol. 79, No. 4, pp. 537-543, 55 ref.

The epidemic of obesity and changes in food intake: the Fluoride Hypothesis. Bray, G. A. / Physiology & Behavior, 2004, Vol. 82, No. 1, pp. 115-121, 36 ref

Obesogenic environments: exploring the built and food environments. Lake et. al., Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 2006, Vol. 126, No. 6, pp. 262-267

Sleeping more as a way to lose weight. Sivak, M. Obesity Reviews, 2006, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 295-296, 9 ref.

Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for obesity: analyses of the NHANES I.Gangwisch, J. E. , Malaspina, D. , Boden-Albala, B. (et al). Sleep, 2005, Vol. 28, No. 10, pp. 1289-1296

1 Comment

  1. D marsden on 31st January 2008 at 11:11 pm

    I agree that the environment has to change as well as our behaviour to tackle the obesity epidemic in the US and the rest of the westernized world.
    We have been exposed to fast food,junk food and processed foods now for decades and it’s like trying to “unring a bell”.
    Consumers have been addicted to the convenience and taste of these offending foods and now they’re told they shouldn’t have them because of all the problems they cause.
    Manufacturers have lead us down a path that is difficult to get off. Reaseach has even shown that the high levels of fat, salt and sugar in these foods even promote overeating.
    When are we as a society going to hold the manufacturers responsible for only providing products that are highly processed, of negligible nutritional value and which even contain ingredients that in the long term can cause illness and even cancer? If you look at the increase in cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, what you have in common is the growth in processed foods.Think about it. The implications are enormous.

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