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Leading Causes of Obesity in America

by
author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
Leading Causes of Obesity in America
Foods high in saturated fat and laden with sugar contribute a significant number of added calories to your diet. Photo Credit Lindsay Upson/Image Source/Getty Images

The causes of obesity are varied and sometimes complex. Factors such as exposure to fast food ads, environment, socioeconomic status, genetic predisposition, overeating and unhealthy snacking influence weight. Americans are no strangers to obesity; somewhere around 36 percent of American adults fall in this category, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you're dealing with obesity, it's never too late to make changes to your lifestyle to benefit your health.

Fast Food Contributes to Obesity

Regularly eating away from home, particularly at fast food restaurants has a strong correlation to excess weight. Fast food restaurants carry items that significantly increase your total daily calorie intake, putting your calorie balance out of whack. It's not uncommon for a meal at a fast food restaurant to contain an entire day's worth of calories. When researchers examined the influence of fast food consumption on body weight, they found that the more frequently people ate fast food, the more they weigh. In a study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Diseases in 2011, scientists found that eating fast food three times per week increased the risk of obesity by 33 percent.

If you have a habit of eating fast food, it's best to cut back on your intake. When you do eat out at a fast food restaurant, select the smallest size available and choose a healthy side dish such as vegetables. These changes help reduce the overall calorie intake of the meal.

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Large Portions Promote Weight Gain

Regularly eating over-sized portions, particularly from energy-dense foods increases total calorie intake and contributes to obesity. Authors of a study published in the 2005 issue of the Journal of Nutrition were already sounding the alarm regarding the role of portion sizes and obesity. The authors recommend reducing the energy density of your foods, so that you're taking in few calories without reducing your overall portion size. Low energy-density foods are often high in water and fiber, which supply bulk without calories, so they fill you up without blowing your daily calorie budget. Substituting beans and legumes, whole grains, lean protein, fruit and vegetables into your meals in place of higher calorie fare can help you lose weight.

Unhealthy Food Choices Promote Obesity

Foods high in saturated fat and laden with sugar contribute a significant number of added calories to your diet. Snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the day is another culprit. Challenges to making healthy food choices include environment and lack of time. Many people live in neighborhoods that have several convenience marts and fast food restaurants -- and with today's busy lifestyle -- grabbing a bite to eat at one of these places offers convenience. However, making poor food choices regularly contributes to obesity and puts your health at risk.

While it's a bit ambitious to expect to transform your diet overnight, you can make small, practical changes. Learn to swap out unhealthy foods for better versions and bump up your intake of fresh whole foods. For instance, instead of a fast food burger and fries, try a turkey burger with baked sweet potato wedges. If your snacking habits need improvement, swap out ice cream for a homemade fruit smoothie, or a regular pack of cookies for a smaller pack that consists of a 100-calorie, single-serve sack. Cut back on your portion sizes and eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep you satisfied. Small changes such as these can produce big results.

Obesity and Not Getting Enough Exercise

Poor diet isn't the only cause of excess weight. Failing to get enough physical activity is a contributing factor. Historically, people have led physically strenuous lives. Today, with modern conveniences, many Americans are much more sedentary than their ancestors. Not burning off excess calories through exercise can lead to weight gain.

Most adults need to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, according to the American Academy of Sports Medicine. Include resistance exercise three of those days. It's beneficial for weight loss to aim for more than 150 minutes if you're currently overweight or obese. Some things you can do to get moving include taking the stairs when possible, parking a few blocks farther from your destination and taking short walk breaks during your work day. Wearing a pedometer can help you track your steps.

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Despite your best intentions, you may find it challenging to eat healthy if you're on a strict budget, or your neighborhood has few healthy options. Make a trip outside of your neighborhood if necessary, and stock up as much as possible to avoid a frequent commute. You can always freeze foods like meat, fish, dairy, fruit, vegetables and even full meals for future use. Make cost-effective food choices when your budget is tight. Nutrient-dense staples such as dry beans, peas and lentils, brown rice, old-fashioned oats, eggs, frozen fruit and vegetables, whole-wheat bread and whole potatoes are under 25 cents per serving. With some thoughtful meal planning, you can prepare healthy meals for yourself and your family, on any budget.

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