How did we get so fat? In this post, I intend to share with you my lighthearted thoughts about where obesity may have come from. And also my thoughts on why we have become rather fat… Back in the early 1960s, which is really not that long ago, it was common to see news items about famine. Back then, it was a serious problem; people were dying of starvation. But now, on a daily basis, both on TV and in the general media, the narrative has changed to discussions about ‘globesity’.
Obesity rivals global warming and international terrorism in terms of threats to society. The World Health Organisation confirms that obesity and being overweight are now linked to more deaths than starvation. But where did the problem originate from? We also have a page summarising some of the interesting facts and figures included in the Channel 4 TV documentary “Who Made Britain Fat?”
Literally thousands of books, magazines and research papers have been written about the subject. I am sure there are multiple reasons and factors that have played a part. I recently wrote a blog post on this site all about Food Addiction, which you may find interesting.
Many people experience similar cravings to those of a drug addict when consuming ‘junk food’. It appears that junk food is well-adapted to triggering identical reward pathways in the brain, leading to a full-blown addiction developing. So I guess this is just another of the reasons that we are seeing this rise in obesity. You may also like to read our page about fast food outlets and the top secrets they don’t want us to know. Another part of the puzzle involves basic energy expenditure. But don’t worry, I am not talking about you joining a gym.
My thoughts are based on the effect of “Energy In Versus Energy Out”. I know it is just common sense, but please allow me to go into a little detail. When I was a child, I can remember living at home with my mum, dad, brother and sister. We always had three meals a day, and sometimes we would have supper before bedtime. We had large Sunday lunches, always with a heavy pudding and custard. But honestly, no one in the family was overweight.
I attended a really large school in Hemel Hempstead; I think there were around five hundred children attending. But, when I think back, I cannot remember there being that many, if any, fat kids. It seems almost impossible, but I have asked friends of the same age to think about it and let me know. They each came back and said the same thing; most said they could only remember a very few overweight children. You may also like to read our blog post: “Does working from home make you obese?”
On the page, you can read about how food works in a similar way to cocaine, heroin and other addictive substances. Foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugars trigger the release of positive, feel-good chemicals in the brain, similar to dopamine. Just like those using drugs, after a person has experienced the highly pleasurable feeling of consuming energy-dense foods, the brain starts to crave more; the person can rapidly become addicted.
To try and answer this question and more, let me share my thoughts about the early development of obesity. Well, for a start, I remember my parents repeatedly asking me to ‘jump up and change the TV channel back and forth’. Remote controls didn’t exist then. We also have a page examining the link between obesity and the increasing size of TV screens.
The telephone was ‘wired in’. Like all households at the time, I remember it being on a small table at the end of the hall. Answering the phone always meant running down the hallway, then returning to tell whoever the call was for to ‘visit the phone’. I can remember my dad sometimes saying: “Go back and tell them I’ll ring them back”. When he said that, I had to run back down the hall for a second time.
I can remember learning to drive in my dad’s Ford car. Of course, there was no power-assisted steering then; you needed to have strong muscles, especially when trying to park. You may not believe this unless you’re the same age as me, but when you wanted to open the window, you had to turn a little silver crank handle on the door, winding the window up or down.
How Did We Get So Fat
So how can that be? What exactly has changed? How did global obesity become such a big issue? How could childhood obesity has gone from close to zero to towards 50 per cent? Also, if we knew where it came from, maybe it would help us to find an acceptable remedy. Because, as we all know, we desperately need one. The diet industry is valued at $275 billion, and it grows every year. But it does not work; they get richer, and we are getting fatter.
How Did We Get So Fat?
Before school each day I did my paper round. Every morning at around 6.30, I would get up and head off on my bike to the local newspaper shop to pick up my ‘made up’ paper round. I can remember that in the winter, I would start and sometimes finish in the dark. Afterwards, I would return home, have a wash and make my bed before leaving for school.
I can remember my first trip abroad; my dad dropped me and a friend off at Luton airport. It was a tiny place then. We literally struggled into the airport terminal carrying our suitcases. Once inside, like everybody else, we had to stand in line behind a hundred or more people at the check-in desk. Every time someone was checked in, you bent down, picked up your case and moved forward a step or two.
Writing this, one other thing I remember that has nothing to do with this page is that we could smoke on the plane. For some reason, which we find incredible now, if you were in the back ten rows, you were in an allocated smoking seat. They believed that the people in the rows in front would not be affected…. But that was then, that was when no one was fat.
How Did We Get So Fat?
So what about now…? Just ahead of leaving home today I made the bed, (Marion and I take it in turns). But it is very different operation from what I did as a kid before school. Then, as a child, we had sheets and blankets that all needed to be ‘tucked in’.
But this morning, like every morning, I just picked up the duvet, gave it a shake and lowered it on the bed. It was almost effortless. We drove to work this morning in our very average car; it’s just a small Seat, but like all cars nowadays it has power-assisted steering, electric windows, air-conditioning and electrically adjusted wing mirrors; absolutely no need to move a muscle or do basically anything other than just sit…it’s effortless.
Similarly, if you could have seen me and Marion watching TV at home last night, you would note that, between us on the sofa, we had the TV remote control, the sound bar remote and of course both our mobile phones; no one gets up off their backside to adjust the TV, do they? And who gets up and runs around the house to answer the phone? Zero effort is required for almost everything these days.
How Did We Get So Fat?
We have a wonderful set of Samsonite suitcases. To be honest, when we bought them, I considered the price to be a small fortune. But they are now ten years old; they look and perform the same as the day we bought them. So maybe paying for quality was the right thing to do.
How Did We Get So Fat?
Back to the Samsonite suitcases… Like most, if not all modern luggage, not only do they have wheels, so that you can pull them along behind you, but they have four wheels. So you can stand them up and wheel them along at check-in, maybe even with a burger in your free hand. Once again, effortless! Does anyone actually pick up a suitcase now….
After clearing security at our local airport there is a considerable distance to walk to the ‘gate’. But that is not a problem, you don’t have to do anything like use your feet or legs. All you have to do is waddle onto ‘travelator’, with a croissant and a coke in your hand. That, of course, is in case you are still hungry following your burger at the check-in desk!
How Did We Get So Fat?
The travelator will automatically deposit you almost at the door of your aircraft! Then of course, with many airlines, the food trolley rolls down the aisle exactly twenty minutes after take-off, with yet more food, in case you’re still hungry…. Zero effort required, other than chewing your food, ahead of swallowing it.
How Did We Get So Fat?
I understand that most people now have dishwashers, and remote control TVs are the norm. We have a new oven, a Bosch. It has a button labelled ‘SC’ on the front. It is of course a self-cleaning oven! I can remember my mum on her knees cleaning the oven with Brillo pads…
I guess everybody has an automatic washing machine these days. Our neighbours also have an amusing robot vacuum cleaner, and the neighbour on the other side has a robot lawn mower. So, it turns itself on at midnight two nights a week, cuts the lawn and then, I don’t know how, it finds its way back to the docking station and recharges itself, ready for its next adventure.
Something Must Change
When I try to calculate the calorific value of the energy saved on a daily basis with regard to some of the items above, it becomes obvious to me that something, somewhere, has to change, and soon: we just cannot continue to physically do less and less, whilst eating the same, or even more; it will literally be the death of us.
How Did We Get So Fat?
Of course there are many factors in play around obesity. Consider how we now find ourselves living in an ‘Obesegenic Society’. It is a society almost of our own making, where food, particular energy dense, high carbohydrate, low quality food is available, 24/7. It is virtually always at the lowest price point. The other element that establishes an ‘Obesegenic Society’ is where physical activity is in a continual decline, and not always because of individual choice. Society and government in general is playing its part in reducing energy expenditure, creating an obesity Tsunami.
One final point about the origins of obesity for the more mature reader: do you remember years back when the last thing people did at night, or possibly the first thing they did in the morning was to wind up their watch? Maybe they also had to wind up the alarm clock…. It was kind of ‘cute’, don’t you think…? Check out our Non Surgical Weight Loss Page Here.
How Did We Get So Fat?
But, if that single act burned, let’s say 0.5 of a calorie (this is not based on any official calculation) then 0 .5 multiplied by 365 and then multiplied by say 60 years equates to approx 11,000 calories; maybe the demise of that act – the ‘rise of the mobile’ as your alarm call – could be the origin of obesity…! Anyway, these are just my (Martin Shirran’s) thoughts around the origins of obesity.
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