Americans Are Eating Fewer Calories, So Why Are We Still Obese?

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Richard Clark / Getty Images/Vetta

The good news: we’re eating fewer calories. The bad news: that’s not translating into lower obesity rates.

Two federal studies on the amount of calories Americans eat show that we are eating less than we did about a decade ago, and that we’re also limiting the amount of fast food we consume.

Between 2007 to 2010, about 11.3% of daily calories came from from fast food, down from 12.8% reported between 2003 to 2006, according to data collected by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fast food consumption decreased with age, with adults aged 60 and older eating the least of this type of food. For younger adults, non-Hispanic black adults reporting eating the most fast food, with more than one-fifth of their daily calories coming from fast food chains.

(MORE: U.S. Obesity Rates Remain Stubbornly High)

Not surprisingly, those who took in the most calories from fast food favorites also weighed the most. “The good news from this study is that as we get older, perhaps we do get wiser and eat less fast food,” Samantha Heller, a clinical nutritionist at the NYU Center for Musculoskeletal Care in New York City told HealthDay. “However, a take-home message is that the study suggests that the more fast food you eat, the fatter you get.”

The second study, also conducted by the CDC, looked at American kids aged 2 to 19 and found that boys were eating fewer calories, dropping from an average of 2,258 calories a day in 1999-2000 to approximately 2,100 calories in 2009-2010. The trend also applied to girls, who ate 76 fewer calories on average in the same time period. Most of this decline came in the form of carbohydrates; children continued to eat about the same amount of fats while increasing the protein they consumed.

“The children had a decrease in carbohydrates, and one of the carbohydrates is added sugars,” says CDC researcher Cynthia L. Ogden, who oversaw the research. “There is evidence showing that added sugars have decreased in general,  and that these things are related to obesity. I think it will be interesting to continue to watch these trends and see what happens nationally.” Ogden says a major source of added sugar in diets comes from sugar-sweetened beverages, and as research shows limiting this sweet drinks can curb weight gain, parents may be curbing the amount of sweetened sodas children drink.

(MORE: Childhood Obesity Rates Drop Slightly In Some Cities: What Are They Doing Right?)

But if Americans are eating less fast food overall, why are obesity rates still so high? As encouraging as the calorie data are, the decreases aren’t significant enough to make a dent in upward trend of obesity. “To reverse the current prevalence of obesity, these numbers have to be a lot bigger,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University told the New York Times. “But they are trending in the right direction, and that’s good news.”

It may depend on how you look at the data. According to Ogden, while obesity rates may be high, the latest statistics show they may be stable, and not continuing to climb upward. “The rate of obesity has been flat recently in both children and in adults and some studies have come out recently that have found a decrease in obesity or childhood obesity in some cities. Still, a third of U.S. adults are obese and 17% of children are obese, but given this relatively stability, I think that these two studies show very interesting results,” says Ogden.

(MORE: Cutting Out Soda Curbs Children’s Weight Gain, Studies Show)

“I think [these findings] are a great start. I am happy to see there is a slight decrease. It still shows that for as much effort that has been put into messaging and positive nutrition promotion, we still have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of people who still need to be touched,” says Laura Jeffers, a registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Refining that message may require delving deeper in what Americans are eating, and addressing the balance between the amount of calories that we eat and the amount we burn off daily through physical activity. Jeffers speculates that even though fast food consumption is down, Americans may be eating unhealthy calories elsewhere. “I think that overall, people are not consuming the majority of their meals at fast food. Even-though maybe fast food has decreased, the majority of calorie consumption is not from the fast food restaurants. Looking at portion sizes and what people are getting in the home and the nutrition and health from those foods, should be another focus as to why the obesity rate is continuing to climb,” she says.

And while eating less is a good way to start addressing the obesity epidemic, it may be that slimming the national waistline means we also have to boost the amount of exercise we get every day.

188 comments
HSteffenhagen
HSteffenhagen

"the study suggests that the more fast food you eat, the fatter you get."

I'm glad we finally settled that.

Phred
Phred

"Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes (2008) settled the matter.  It is unusually comprehensive, extremely well researched, and a must-read for individuals concerned with diet/health/weight. 

WhyAreYouSoFat
WhyAreYouSoFat

Too much fixation on food. The problem is solely lack of physical activity. No one wants to accept it simply out of ego and pride in a society, or rather a world, that frowns on slothfulness but prides gluttony as a byproduct of wealth.

If you want a good idea of how much physical activity you should be doing: try a 2 mile hike per day.. outside.. with inclines.. carrying at least 10 pounds of weight, and that's just breaking even; not worthy of being deemed exercise. Chances are you don't get that during your short trips from place of establishment to motor vehicle and vice versa. I also doubt you get that standing behind a counter or sitting behind a desk all day.

CaloriesProper
CaloriesProper

There's no mystery here - they were probably eating 100 fewer good healthy kilocalories, which made them a little tired so total energy expenditure declined by 105 kilocalories.  WHAT you eat is at least as important as how MUCH you eat.

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

Calorie counting does not work anymore, the key to permanent weight loss is an insulin resistance diet. 

The food today has made us insulin resistant. Dieting does not take the weight off because we are insulin resistant. 

In the good old days we made natural insulin that keep us thin but food chemicals make us insulin resistant and fat. 

When researchers used an insulin resistant diet on overweight people they all lost weight see here http://spirithappydiet.blogspot.com/2013/02/low-calories-diet-and-still-fat.html



debbiestclairecoach
debbiestclairecoach

It is good news that people are cutting back on sugar. Perhaps the message is filtering down to everyone that eating sugar and refined carbs will make you fat and unhealthy


atwer
atwer

All the preservatives in packaged food in the grocery store messes up your hormones and energy supply.  These mainstream journalists always do a half *ss job at fact collecting, probably because the corporate owners they report to wouldn't like disparaging their investors/clients.   Stay away from anything in a can or box should be the message here.  

VettiPayal
VettiPayal

Grocery shopping doesn't mean food shoping to me. I shop ingredients and cook my food. Yummmm.

WellnesswithVisi
WellnesswithVisi

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OriHofmekler
OriHofmekler

Human fitness is not a random collection of exercises and it isn’t about eating less junk food or popping megadoses of vitamins. Your fitness is created and maintained by a well-defined system. It is rooted in your biology and it’s programmed in your genes. Human fitness is based on specific rules, and you need to know how to follow these rules.

ltq000
ltq000

High fructose corn syrup.  hydrogenated fats.  Parabens.  Hormone and antibiotic treated beef.  GMO's.

We cannot possibly have a meaningful conversation about obesity without discussing the impact these foods and food additives have upon health.  Why is TIME ignoring these issues?  

This article is a major FAIL, in my humble opinion.

RichyBocaz
RichyBocaz

US People are eating fewer. Not Americans. America is a continent with no just one country.

Litesp33d
Litesp33d

It is no good talking about Americans as though they are one generic lump.  America is a divided society.  One group are the ones who eat healthily and exercise regularly and take in the calories they need and no more.  A visit to any gym will find these people.  The others are either size zero anorexics or blubber on legs.  These people are both unhealthy.  However the obese consume enough calories to make up for the thin ones and the gym ones  many times over.  So it is not 'America' it is just that vast numbers fall into the food consumer category like cattle to the slaughter and they are essential for the US economy.  Consume as much as they can and then die before they become a burden on State resources.  The perfect consumer.  Not saying it is right or good it is just how it is in a land where the choice of how you live your life is the goal.

JuniorNaturel
JuniorNaturel

nyc schoolyards are now mainly teacher's parking lots

no tag, someone must be "it"

no dodgeball someone might be hit

video game yield lard butts and future chronic diseases


MarieLowrance
MarieLowrance

MONSANTO, MONSANTO, MONSANTO, MONSANTO, MONSANTO  wake up SHEEPLE you can exercise all you want, but if you are eating genetically modified foods you are going to be FAT, especially around the waist! Google MONSANTO GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS , banned in many countries, but not the USA 

pendragon05
pendragon05

Exercise, exercise, exercise! Turn off that tv set, put down that mobile device game, turn off that computer, and run 5 miles. Exercise 6 days a week and obesity will disappear.

EugeneJaskar
EugeneJaskar

i believe the following (taken from the article) is the primary cause for the problem:  addressing the balance between the amount of calories that we eat and the amount we burn off daily through physical activity; we have a nation that walks less and less every year, etc., etc.  get off the computer, turn off the TV and move!  push come to shove, turn on the radio and dance!!

ChristinaMarieChapman
ChristinaMarieChapman

It's called the Social Gradient Theory. Countries with the highest level of hierarchical stratification (determined by money in Western culture) have the highest rates of obesity. The connection between high stress and body weight is clear. Social stress is the worst in regard to the effects it has on the stress hormone response. This stress is caused by high levels of social stratification, measured by the GINI coefficient. Countries with the best GINI coefficients have the healthiest citizens across a broad range of health indicators. Check out Social Gradient Theory for more information- it is a highly well-supported theory that we have been unable to disprove (that is how science works- disproving theories until you are left with the one that has strong sorting evidence and cannot be disproven). Americans don't like to hear this sort of information, though.

dbdy
dbdy

If I consume 2258 cal/day, but only burn off 2000 cal/day, I gain weight at a rate of 1 lbs every 14 days.

If I drop my consumption to 2100 cal/day, and still only burn off 2000 cal/day, I still gain weight, at a slower rate of 1 lbs every 35 days.  I am still getting more obese until I drop consumption below my metabolic rate.  It's simple math.  If you can count calories, you can lose weight.



DigitalManSKL
DigitalManSKL

One word......   SUGAR ...... it's not an ingredient....  it's a condiment!   

roadtohere
roadtohere

Money!  Healthy food is expensive.  In the Middle Ages, the fat folks were the wealthy people.  They could afford food.  Fat was a status symbol.  Today the reverse is true and wealthy people who can afford quality food are thinner.  Staying thin is easier for wealthy people.  They can afford gym memberships, trainers, chefs, nutritionists, and good food.

Poor people have to eat what's cheap and fast.  Working a couple jobs doesn't leave much time for food prep.  Add children into the equation and whatever you fix also has to be kid friendly.  You can't afford waste.  Fresh foods spoil quickly.  That box of Hamburger Helper will last forever!

apodofin
apodofin

We are obese because we eat bad food (fast food or not), exercise very little, and lead sedentary lifestyles.  Exercise more and eat healthy foods.  99.9% of the time, that's what it takes.  You don't need fancy pills or diets, just good old fashioned will power.  Its just harder now days with constant bombardment of advertisements for unhleathy food items and products (like TVs, computers, movies, etc) that lead to a sedentary lifestyle.  You're not big boned or have a glandular problem, you just need a change in lifestyle (My appologies to the 0.1% of obese people who actually have this problem).

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

Why we are not losing weight: We are not addressing the true causes of not losing weight which is Insulin resistance

The low calorie hype is just that "Hype". There are so many reasons for the obesity epidemic and calories are very low on the list. The number one reason for not losing weight is insulin resistance. Years ago we had good natural insulin that removed glucose from our bloodstream but this is not the case anymore we are insulin resistant and fat

SEE HERE   http://spirithappydiet.blogspot.com/2013/02/low-calories-diet-and-still-fat.html




BJammin
BJammin

It amazes me that a lot of people on here have been so brainwashed by rumors, crash diets, media that they actually believe whole heartedly in what they say. It is FACT that our bodies use calories for energy. It is 110% about calories. What people don't understand is how to balance those calories to give their bodies what they need. Based on your body you need a certain amount of Protein, Carbs, Fat (yes good fat burns bad fat!). You need protein to maintain your muscles, carbs for energy, and fat to boost metabolism. Not to mention that our bodies were made to move. we were made to hunt, gather, travel, survive. So exercise and simply moving around will keep your body kicking. We are lazy and brainwashed by the companies folks. My Grandfather ate unhealthy every single day but was skinny. Why? Because he worked on a farm and moved around all day (I am not saying it was good for his heart, Haha). Depending on your body size we burn around 1900-2100 calories sitting still per day. Personally I burn 3,000 calories a day with my workout and eat 1,700-2,500 good calories to maintain muscles and stay lean. Yes I eat whole wheat pasta, and have a sugary snack. That is called the zig-zag diet. Keeping your body burning and guessing, not letting it get used to the SAME intake every day. Thats what causes a plateau. I hope you take this advice. I hope you all have a great day because we all share the same planet and we need to start acting like it. So love everyone, be positive and hit the gym today. If it is your first day take it easy and enjoy it. working out can be FUN!

RRocklin
RRocklin

Lets see; we drive everywhere and minimize walking.  We sit behind computer or tv screens for much of the day.  Few get any physical exercise besides pushing a mouse or joy stick.  We eat high fat foods.   Obesity is no mystery.

cameron_LT
cameron_LT

The answer is pretty simple. Americans are lazy. They spend more time looking for a quick acting pill or stupid trendy diet, then they do simply getting off their butts and going to the gym. A good workout is better than any diet. Especially considering people don't stay on diets. A workout can be a lifestyle. You don't go in and go so hard everyday that your burnt out in a month either. (thats why new years resolutions don't work) Slow and steady wins the race.

JohnSmith8
JohnSmith8

I asked my pastor what my opinion should be about this and how I should think and feel about it. He told me my opinion should be the people  don't have enough will power. So, therefore, that is my opinion. If people had more will power nobody would be fat.

MickeyCashen
MickeyCashen

It would be more telling to look at how fewer Calories were burning up through exercise and how that also contributes to poor health in the future.  Cutting calories without adding exercise is a combination leading to poor health.

segesta65
segesta65

As others have said: it's not the calories, it's the carbs. Sugar/corn syrup, bread, potatoes, rice--cut these out and you will lose weight, even if your calorie count remains the same.

Kristy-Ann
Kristy-Ann

Oops my message was not pasted properly.

The article is talking about a decline of 158 calories for boys and 76 calories for girls. If you or I removed 158 calories from our diets we wouldn't see any difference in weight at all! The 'drop' is so small in relationship to the total calories consumed daily it is virtually irrelevant. Acceptable statistical error is set at + or - 3%. The difference in the boys consumption is approx. 7%. Taking into account that number might be a bit lower due to the acceptable statistical error.... Nothing to write home about.

Kristy-Ann
Kristy-Ann

or I removed 158 calories from our diets we wouldn't see any difference in weight at all! The 'drop' is so small in relationship to the total calories consumed daily it is virtually irrelevant. Acceptable statistical error is set at + or - 3%. The difference in the boys consumption is approx. 7%. Taking into account that number might be a bit lower due to the acceptable statistical error.... Nothing to write home about.

philmuse43
philmuse43

It isn't fast food, just by itself. You can eat healthily in many fast food restaurants if you watch what you eat. And it isn't even sugar, per se. The big culprit is sweeteners derived from High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Coca-Cola Classic is the principal suspect, but HFCS is found in a variety of other products, too, including tomato and barbeque sauces. HFCS comes from genetically modified corn. Our bodies haven't evolved to the point that we can break this substance down effectively, so it gets stored up as bulk. Dealing with this issue in terms of government regulation has been slow to gain momentum because there are big names imvolved, such as Monsanto, which is pushing its "sweet corn."

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

Carbs.

Carbs, carbs, carbs carbs. Seriously, *it's the carbs*.

This may sound like an ad, but it's not. I ate healthy and excercised and couldn't lose weight, then I tried Atkins/LCHF, didn't excercise (much), ate as much as I wanted, and got down to the same weight I had in the military, a weight I've now maintained for well over a year. As a bonus my blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also vastly improved, and my stomach problem's are gone - and this on a diet of fat and protein. It also completely eradicated my trust in dietary recommendations.

Bacon, eggs, steaks, chicken, sauce, cheese, cream, coffee, leafy vegetables - all good, doesn't make you fat. Soda, bread, potatoes, rice, fruit juice, sugar in all forms... *those* are the things which make you fat.

If you try you'll find it's not as easy as it sounds. The first weeks are rough (you tend to keep habits like avoiding fat, but avoiding fat on a LCHF diet makes you very tired, because that's your new energy source), and there are carbs in nearly everything, including pretty much all processed meat (starch is added)... and I still really miss bread.

foofighterr
foofighterr

@ltq000 YES! My thoughts exactly. Is Time owned by a conglomerate tied to BigPharma or Big Agra? This article borders on the imbecilic. 

Soda, poor feedlot cattle raised on corn, and GMO crops sprayed with Agent Orange (well, not yet anyway--if they are telling us the truth--but that's the new herbicide Monsanto's working on now in order to kill off those GMO Super Weeds which are resistant to their glyphosate Round-Up) are playing a huge role in this nation's weight problem.      

 

kal
kal

@roadtohereNot true.  Most healthy foods are actually cheaper.  That box of hamburger helper contains a handful of noodles and salt.  It is actually quite expensive for what you get.  The problem is people don't know how to select healthy food or how to cook.  They think they have to buy expensive "diet" foods.   Frozen vegetables, some fresh vegetables, rolled oats, whole wheat flour, eggs, peanut butter, dry beans, and brown rice are just a few examples of inexpensive healthy foods. Most of these are cheaper than a bag of chips or cookies.  Did you ever notice that the generic Cheerios or bran flakes are cheaper than the junk cereals?  You don't need a gym membership, personal trainer, chef, or nutritionist either.  I don't pay money for any of these things.  I walk or run outside and do exercises at home.  I do own a treadmill and exercise equipment.  I choose to spend my money on these items rather than cable TV and other luxury items.  And don't cater to the kids.  My kids eat all the things I mentioned above because that is what they are served and they learned from a young age how to help with the cooking and to prepare their own lunches.  They never bought school lunch and are much healthier for it.   

LowerContrast
LowerContrast

@apodofin > I think you're forgetting one important thing in your condemnation of people who are sedentary.  Those who handicapped due to injury or illness are certainly NOT sitting around yearning for all those things. They can't exercise the way you would say they should.


Oh, and just TRY to eat healthy on SSI and food stamps. People buy cheap because they can make it go a lot further. When a pound of oranges costs twice what a loaf of processed bread costs and bread will last over a week, guess what people buy? Even WITH exercise, one cannot lose weight that way.


Even the USDA concedes that eating healthy is nearly impossible without subsidizing and we just don't do that.

LowerContrast
LowerContrast

@thewholetruth > Lay off that "resistance" crap. If you don't understand what has created the mythological resistance, all you're doing is muddying the waters.


Empty calories with no nutritional value, but fill one up WILL make one fat. Period.

tt
tt

@BJammin 1900 is a bit high for petite females... Even with exercise. Anyhow, regarding your comment that it is 110% about calories, I think most people fail to realize diet comes first before exercise when losing weight. You can lose a lot of weight on restricted calories and no exercise... Then gradually go back go normal eating and exercise to maintain. I almost think exercise should be thought of as breaking plateaus, improving blood test results, toning, and strengthening the body instead of as a way to lose weight, since so many people think exercise without a major change to eating habits will make a difference in weight when it really doesn't... And not to offend anyone and a bit off topic, but I think this is one of the reasons I see fat marathon runners...

apodofin
apodofin

@segesta65 That's not 100% true.  While its good to cut out processed grains and processed foods for whole grains and less processed food, you can still lose weight by merely cutting back on calories.  A professor lost 27 pounds pounds eating nothing but Twinkies just to prove that has a lot to do with calories.  Granted, if you don't eat healthy as you suggested, you're going to always feel hungry and go right back to where you were.

BJammin
BJammin

@segesta65 I apologize but you are misinformed. It is all about calories. According to your post, a person can take in 5,000 calories/day as long as they don't take in the things you suggested and that is false. I am not saying the items you have listed are good for you or have nutritional value, I am just saying that if I were to take in 5,000 healthy calories and sit on my butt all day I would gain weight and pretty quick. 

apodofin
apodofin

@Kristy-Ann Idk about that.  As long as all other factors stay the same (which may be hard to do) they would consume 57,670 less calories in a year which translates to ~16.4 pounds in a year.  Makes you really think twice about that extra cookie or two every day doesn't it?

emoney2013
emoney2013

@WilfTarquin I mostly agree with what you have mentioned. I have never felt better since engaging in paleo/ketogenic eating habits. I find that if I do indulge in carbs (other than those provided by fruits and vegetables) it creates almost a craving that propels me to have some more. 

roadtohere
roadtohere

@kal @roadtohere 

You did very well if you can get a kid to eat a plate of beans and brown rice.  Most kids don't consider that to be food fit for human consumption.  If a kid has a dollar to get something to eat, he will get the burrito to feel like he has eaten something substantial.  He won't spend the money and buy an apple.  And every kid should know the basics of cooking.  But most don't.

I eat a lot like you.  And I agree it's healthy and cheap.  But like you, I actually know how to cook.  Give Joe a pound of dried beans and rice and he will have no idea what to do with it.  And Joe probably doesn't have time to make it either.  I bet you also cook in bulk like I do and always have your own fast food in the freezer.  But we are the oddballs here and Joe is the norm.  Most people have no idea how to shop, plan, and prepare great food for little money. 

apodofin
apodofin

@LowerContrast @apodofinDon't make the assumption that I don't think about handicapped people.  My wife has one leg and is confined to either crutches or  a wheelchair the rest of her life (she's been that way as long as I know her).  She exercising very little, but a good diet keeps her within a very healthy weight range (mid-lower BMI). 

You can also eat healthy and cheap.  There are plenty of veggies and meats at the supermarket that you can cook up pretty cheap and fast.  Stick to the outside aisles (processed foods are in the middle aisles typically).  Most people need to learn how to cook, that's their problem.  They look for the prepackaged meals and those labeled as healthy or diet food and they are expensive.  Stop buying all of the soda, chips, and junk food and people would  have plenty for healthy food.  Food education is a wonderful thing for people to learn.