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Why Did Obesity Increase So Much in America?

Approximately one-third of Americans are obese, according to the "Journal of the American Medical Association." Many variables likely have contributed to the rise of obesity in the United States, including the availability of fast foods, a lack of exercise and even food additives. Building an awareness of the causes of obesity in America can be the first step toward doing something about this problem.

Sedentary Activities

One in five children in the United States are currently overweight and many of them will struggle with their weight for a lifetime. A likely contributor is the electronic media that took off in the 1980s, according to Alabama Cooperative Extension Nutritionist Dr. Robert Keith. When you think of childhood, you might picture children playing a ballgame, swinging on swings or playing hopscotch. Unfortunately for most children in the United States, these activities are not the popular pastimes they used to be. Increasingly, children are spending hours watching television, playing video games and surfing websites. While parents might feel reassured that their children are safe at home, these activities have a cost.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup was introduced in the 1970s and is added to a wide variety of foods. You can find it in cookies, soft drinks, spaghetti sauce, bread and many other common products. In the 1970s, far fewer people in the United States were overweight. The introduction of high fructose corn syrup appears to have coincided with the increase of obesity in America, points out a Princeton University research team. These researchers also found that rats who are fed high fructose corn syrup gain more weight than rats fed an equal number of calories of table sugar, which further supports the hypothesis.

Fast Food

In his groundbreaking book "Fast Food Nation," Eric Schlosser points out that in the 1970s, people in the United States spent $6 billion on fast food annually. In 2000, they spent $110 billion. As the amount of money Amercans spend on fast food goes up, so does the number of people who are obese. For many, stopping through the drive-through on the way home from work to pick up a box of greasy chicken, fries and a large soft drink is a way of life. Fast food companies entice children to consume their meals with appealing toys, setting the stage for a lifelong habit of eating unhealthy fast food.

Car Culture

There is a direct correlation between obesity and the method of transportation people choose. In the United States, people rely heavily on their cars. This has not always been the case. However, as people move to the suburbs, walking as a part of daily life becomes difficult, as neighborhood stores and businesses are spread far apart. Countries who do not rely heavily on cars for everyday transportation have lower rates of obesity. For example, in Sweden, 62 percent of people walk or bicycle and only 9 percent of the population is obese. A similar scenario is played out in Latvia, the Netherlands and several other countries where people rely on their bodies to get around. In the United States, only 12 percent of people use active means to get around, and the obesity rate is 33 percent, according to "Wired" magazine's report on the findings of University of Tennessee researcher David Bassett and Rutger's University researcher John Puche.