THE BLOG

3 Real Contributors to the Obesity Epidemic

04/07/2015 10:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

We're in the midst of an obesity epidemic that is contributing to chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes at never-before-seen rates. Have you ever wondered why this is happening? I've boiled it down to three simple causes: seats, science projects, and outsourcing.

1. Seats

We're constantly implored to "take a seat." Most of us sit all day at our desks, during interminable meetings, while commuting, and then cap off the day reclining on the couch, while gorging on mindless entertainment. We now know that seats can be hazardous to our health. They should come with a cigarette-like warning that says, "Prolonged sitting can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and even death." Research supports those dire predictions. A well-documented study of 12,000 Australians concluded that those who watched TV for six hours per day shortened their lifespans by 4.8 years.

While you might not be a telly addict of that order, a sedentary occupation will yield the same result. Your body doesn't know if you're sitting for work or pleasure. You can't fight biology. Our bodies yearn to emulate the Energizer Bunny. Instead of always plunking ourselves down in a comfy chair, our default position should be standing up and moving. Perhaps cheapo RyanAir should tack on an upcharge for the health benefits conferred by its vertical seats.

2. Science Projects

We used to eat real food that came from animals and from the soil. Now we eat science projects concocted in Nestle, General Mills, PepsiCo, and ConAgra plants. Extensive research goes into fabricating just the right combinations of tastes that will light up the pleasure centers in our brains in ways that are eerily similar to snorting cocaine. Then they seal the deal by constantly hawking these chemical compounds in print, television and social media. You shouldn't need linguistics training to be able to understand an ingredient label. Nor should a chemistry degree be a prerequisite to decipher the long list of mystery additives. Mike Pollan's Food Rule #19 is a good rule of thumb: "If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't."

3. Outsourcing

Are you old enough to remember when meals were made from scratch in our own kitchens? These days, home-cooked meals have been relegated to a special occasion aberration. Sometimes I wonder why new home builders bother installing kitchen ovens. Today we outsource our food preparation. We scarf down food with one hand on the wheel or eat a day's worth of calories at lunch inhaling a huge salad swimming in tasty ranch dressing. We've decided we don't have time to cook anymore. Most of us consider what we put into our bodies so inconsequential that we shove it in while sitting at our desks working or binge-watching Netflix. Eating out has become a time-saving convenience and a way for foodies to entertain themselves. It's not only our wallets that suffer from eating out. Our bellies tell the tale since the average restaurant diner consumes 200 more calories than someone who eats a meal at home.

The culprits are a caloric trifecta of gobs of flavor-enhancing butter, indulging in the oft-made suggestion of "calamari for the table," and the sheeple behavior of ordering dessert just because your dining companions say the crème brulee is "to die for." Since the likelihood of returning to the days of June Cleaver is nil, here are two practical ideas. Shop for nourishing food on the weekend so you can throw a meal together in under five minutes and stash wholesome snacks in your office. If money is no object, buy prepared foods from upscale grocers like Whole Foods, or order home delivery from a healthy gourmet purveyor. You do remember how to use the microwave, don't you?