People who are overweight and obese eat the same foods as everyone else. They may vary in the amount they eat, the frequency they eat, preparation methods used to cook their foods and their level of physical activity. In addition, their bodies and brains may promote calorie consumption and energy storage in different ways than people of a healthy weight. It bears mentioning, however, that 68 percent of American adults and one-third of all American children are overweight or obese, according to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Consequently, examining the foods that obese people eat is really a study of what most Americans eat in general, as healthy-weight individuals are a minority in the United States.
Obesity is almost always the result of consuming more calories than your body needs and maintaining that surplus over a period of time. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the “What We Eat in America” survey data, the average American woman eats a self-reported 1785 calories, and men consume 2638. People have a tendency to under-report their calorie consumption, however, and a group of researchers publishing in the “International Journal of Obesity” said people consume, on average, 20 percent more calories than they say they do. According to a group of Harvard University nutritionists, Americans consume approximately 300 more calories per day than they did in 1970.
Top Sources of Calories
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, Americans are consuming a great deal of high-calorie, low-nutrient meals, which are contributing to the obesity epidemic. The guidelines have a list of 25 food products that supply the greatest amount of calories in a typical American’s diet. It’s based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The greatest supplier of calories in everyone’s diet, across all ages and weight classes, is grain-based desserts. These include just about every sweet treat that starts from flour -- including cake, cookies, pie, cobbler, sweet rolls, pastries and donuts. For adults, other major calorie suppliers include yeast breads, soda, alcohol, pizza, tortillas, burritos, tacos, pasta dishes, beef dishes, dairy-based desserts -- such as ice cream, yogurt, milk shakes and pudding -- burgers, cheese, chips, sausage, franks, bacon and ribs. Meat and products made from refined carbohydrates have been identified as contributors to obesity.
Solid Fats and Added Sugars
Of particular concern is the heavy consumption of solid fats and added sugars among obese people and Americans in general. Common solid fats obese people consume include butter, margarine and shortening; beef, chicken and pork fat; and the fat in milk, which is solid at room temperature. Foods that supply these fats include desserts, pizza, cheese, bacon and french fries. On average, solid fats contribute about 19 percent of calories in the average American diet. In addition, more people are consuming food to which sugar has been added. Bread is a major source of added sugar. Foods that supply most of the added sugar Americans consume include high-fructose corn syrup and other fructose and corn syrup sweeteners, table and brown sugar, maple and pancake syrups, honey and molasses and anhydrous and crystal dextrose. In practical terms, you’re probably consuming these sugars mostly in soft drinks, desserts and candy.
A major contributor to obesity is eating foods that you don’t prepare. Fast-food consumption is a significant calorie supplier, although that’s not to say sit-down restaurants don’t contribute. Fast-food restaurant menus offer far more high-calorie, high-fat and low-nutrient foods at cheap prices with convenience, and more Americans are consuming more than one meal per day from these sources. Among the most common foods partaken from fast-food restaurants are burgers, french fries and soda.
- "The Washington Post"; The Seven Secrets of Highly Obese People; David Zinczenko; August 2009
- "American Journal of Public Health"; The Contribution of Expanding Portion Sizes to the US Obesity Epidemic; Lisa R. Young, Marion Nestle; February 2002
- USDA: Nutrient Intakes from Food: Mean Amounts Consumed Per Individual, One Day 2005-2006
- "International Journal of Obesity"; The Relation Between Dietary Change and Rising US Obesity; J.K. Binkley, et al.; August 2000
- "The Journal of Nutrition"; Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Body Mass Index in Multiethnic Women; Gertraud Maskarinec et al.; December 2000
- "Obesity"; Determinants of Food Choice: Relationships with Obesity and Weight Control; David J. Mela; November 2001