Surely when almost 70% of American adults are overweight, it can’t be our own fault, right? Genetics, busy schedules, limited food options…something has to be causing the weight to pile on. And it can’t be my fault. Can it?

Before I go any further, I would just like to share that one year ago I weighed about 213lbs. By the next summer, after working my butt off to lose the weight, I got down to 183lbs. Since I am about 6’1″, some may not have considered me “overweight” since I carried that extra 30lbs pretty well, but imagine how much stress I relieved my body of by shedding 30lbs. My knees no longer hurt when I would run, my energy levels were up, I was able to fit back into my old wardrobe (which some would say is outdated and should be replaced anyway), and life just got easier; plain and simple.

Medically, I was overweight. Aesthetically, most people would probably have said I was average weight. Unfortunately, “average” nowadays is overweight. And about half of that average is actually obese, which is appalling because our weight is something we can absolutely control despite a number of factors that may make managing it more challenging for some than others. Does that make it our fault for being fat? Well let’s start to dig into what got us into this crisis in the first place.

A Look Back

Go find a yearbook from the 1950’s or earlier (you can actually just Google search for old photographs). Compare it to a yearbook today. Notice a difference in how thin people were less than one lifetime ago? Do you think the average American’s genetics have evolved or changed that drastically over just a few generations? Of course not.

This may not be apparent in the yearbooks, but with some reflection on basic history, what else do you notice? Far fewer restaurants (much less fast food), no computers, fewer cars, fewer televisions. What does this all translate to? More meals prepared at home using real, farm-to-table food. More walking and biking to get where you wanted to go. Less time sitting, more time going places.

Now don’t get me wrong, America didn’t change suddenly during the 1950’s, or even 60’s. During the 1930’s in the wake of The Great Depression, cheap food with a long shelf life became a necessity. SPAM, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Snickers bars and other processed foods were introduced during this decade. With WWII erupting during the 1940’s, once again it became highly necessary to create cheap food sources with a long shelf life to keep soldiers nourished overseas. Convenient food sources became more and more prevalent, which laid the foundation for the fast-food boom that kicked off during the 1950’s.

American Obesity Rates from 1960-2010, via the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Decades of gradual but consistent shifts in the landscape of our restaurant menus and grocery aisles lead to our current obesity crisis which largely kicked off during the 1970’s. Not everyone agrees on the culprit, but most agree that a dangerous combination of over-eating and under-activity are to blame. Who’s fault can it be for over-eating and and being sedentary? While the fault may seem obvious, let’s look at some more pieces of the puzzle.

Education and Awareness

I think it’s fair to say that no one knew the changes being made to our food over the 20th century would result in almost 70% of America’s 21st century adults suffering from weight-related illnesses. So it is also fair to say that we have been completely caught off guard as to how serious this situation is, much less what to do about it.

For thousands of years, humans hardly had to worry that the food they found would kill them. They were more worried about finding food just to survive. Today we have no issue finding food. It’s finding food that won’t slowly kill us that we have to worry about.

Scientific advancements have fortunately made our understanding of weight management better than ever before, but unfortunately far too few people have that education. Educators are working harder than ever to teach young people how to make smart nutrition decisions, but many adults who never received that education are modeling the very lifestyle that kids are taught to avoid. This makes it very hard to break the cycle, and the increasing amount of obese children are convinced they’re fat because their parents and grandparents are fat. They see common ancestry as the cause, when in fact it’s the common lifestyle packing on the pounds.

The Blame Game

We could easily blame the scientists who developed cheap, high-calorie products that made “food” easier to access, easier to eat, and easier to over-consume. We could blame the entertainment industry for creating movies and games that have us turning to our couches for relaxation, rather than recreation. We could blame motor vehicles for allowing us to get places with minimal physical effort. We could blame fast food for making us think a ‘meal’ can be chicken nuggets, french fries and carbonated sugar water. Ultimately though, we are responsible for what we put into our bodies and our children’s. Who or what we blame doesn’t matter nearly as much as what we do now.

If you are one of the minority, a healthy and active youth or adult with the knowledge of how to maintain a healthy weight, take it upon yourself to sensitively and charitably influence those around you to make positive decisions for their health, and educate others as often as is appropriate. If you’re one of the majority and need help learning how to lose weight and manage a healthy lifestyle, please contact a fitness professional who can educate you on how physical activity and nutrition must work together keep our bodies happy and healthy.