Huffpost Parents

Why Do We Overeat? Harvard Researchers Address Obesity And The Toxic Food Environment

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This panel is presented at The Forum at Harvard School of Public Health in collaboration with The Huffington Post, including video courtesy of HBO.

As part of HuffPost Healthy Living's continued collaboration with the Harvard School of Public Health, Editorial Director Meredith Melnick joined leading experts in nutrition, public health and childhood obesity on Friday to discuss the effect our toxic food environment has on obesity, a health crisis so ubiquitous that we are simultaneously familiar with and blind to its staggering prevalence. Tune in below for highlights from the conversation.

Currently in America, two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese and 17 percent of children are obese, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. While those rates remain steady, there is evidence that more serious obesity-associated conditions continue to rise. Just this week, the American Heart Association reported that 5 percent of our nation's children can be considered "severely" obese -- a new classification of extreme weight and metabolic dysfunction -- and that this rate is trending up.

Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, athlerosclerosis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. People who are obese may also face social and professional discrimination, limited mobility and elevated rates of depression.

In June of this year, the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease for the first time -- and what a complicated disease it is. At the time of the resolution, the organization wrote:

The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes.

It is this gray area -- "the suggestion of the chosen lifestyle" -- that we joined together to discuss. Historically, conventional wisdom has suggested that obesity is the result of personal choice, a failure of willpower, a disease of ignorance. What a low opinion to have of so much of our own community.

New research presents a different view: A confluence of genetic predisposition and environmental influence conspire to make unhealthful foods -- sugary, salty, fat-filled snacks -- appealing, desirable and even potentially addictive.

This panel addressed some of the factors that are contributing to this epidemic -- and some potential solutions that marry scientific discovery and sound policy.

Please continue the discussion in the comments below.