Suspected Obesity Culprits

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Writing for AlterNet, Martha Rosenberg highlighted five areas of modern life that are “under suspicion” as being responsible for why the average American man weighs 194 pounds and the average American woman weighs 165 pounds. Traditionally, the answer is energy balance, the simple fact that everyone eats too much and nobody gets enough exercise.

While that is certainly foundational, scientific research suggests additional factors. Over the years, dozens of reasons have been tentatively identified. Although this is a time when there is less money than ever for science, it seems that, as in a good murder investigation, every suspect should be looked at.

One of the factors identified by Rosenberg, and one that is undeniable no matter how closely we might adhere to the energy balance idea, is the propaganda dispersed by the food industry and, in some cases, the government. The aggressive marketing of junk food is both massive and ubiquitous, and when corporations are willing to spend so much money on something, there must be a reason. They have learned, for instance, that children perceive foods as actually tasting better just because the packages are decorated with cartoon characters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken an ambivalent position, supporting a position that simultaneously encourages less cheese consumption for the purpose of weight loss and more cheese consumption to support the dairy industry. Rosenberg writes:

Though Dairy Management is mostly funded by farmers, it received $5.3 million from the USDA during one year, for an overseas dairy campaign, which almost equals the total $6.5 million budget of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion — the group that cautions us about fatty foods like cheese. Yes, the government is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it tells the public what to put in its mouth.

The “Dairy Management” Rosenberg refers to is a USDA-run agency called that employs about 160 Americans whose job is to help fast food companies inject more cheese into their menu offerings, which are eaten by other Americans, who then become more obese. On what planet does this make any sense at all?

Better living through chemistry?

The link between antibiotics and obesity is controversial but more evidence shows up every day. Rosenberg mentions research from Denmark showing that babies treated with antibiotics within their first six months of life are more likely to become overweight by the time they are 7 years old. American children tend to be treated with antibiotics around 20 times before reaching adulthood, and the food chain gets more saturated with these substances every year, so this possible source of obesity seems worth looking into.

Meat products also tend to contain residues of chemicals that are fed to livestock to make them weigh more, and some current research focuses on investigating the damage this might cause to humans. This is a particularly insidious danger, because people don’t realize they are ingesting these weird substances. They are usually more aware about including artificial sweeteners in their diets, though a growing body of opinion condemns these chemicals too.

Rosenberg’s article also points the finger of suspicion at endocrine disruptors, quoting the journal Toxicological Sciences and a New York Times piece about the effect that some chemicals appear to have on developing fetuses. More research is needed to establish whether any of these substances make the body more susceptible to addiction, because it is very clear that many overweight and obese people are, as Dr. Pretlow maintains, straight-up food addicts.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Americans Are Huge: 5 Surprising Reasons Why We May Be Getting Fatter,”, 03/12/14
Image by Scott McLeod

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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