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13 Weeks: Why Obesity?

Week 11 of my second 13 week season: low-carb diet and more exercise, tracking my weight, blood glucose, and body fat. You can follow me at my 13 Weeks Facebook page for daily updates, and you can join Fitocracy (free!) and follow my daily exercise, and maybe even start tracking your own. And yes, I have been slack with the exercise this last couple weeks.  Gimme a break, I had a car wreck.

Last week, Glenn Reynolds linked an interesting article in The Atlantic with a fascinating animated map.

Using CDC data, the map shows reported incidence of obesity by state starting in 1985. The reporting didn't get started uniformly, but as you watch the progress, there is an obvious increase until by 2010 every state is reporting "high" obesity rates.

This image has some obvious problems -- among other things, the definition of "obesity" here is using body mass index (BMI), which has flaws we've talked about before -- but it still makes the point that people in the U.S. have been gaining weight for quite a while now.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Among other things, we've gotten to the point that pretty much everyone can afford to get enough to eat.  As has been pointed out before, this was the first country in history in which the poor people are the fattest. But I noticed something else: if you watch it carefully, the increase in obesity, first in deeper blue  then a sort of funny beige color, and then on to red, starts in the early '90s.  I went looking for historical summaries of the Department of Agriculture's "food pyramid" and found several (see, eg, this.)

We seem not to do animated GIFs in the main pages. If it's not changing, click on the image.

It's an interesting coincidence that this increase in obesity started roughly at the same time that the U.S. government started to advocate low-fat, high-carb diets. I remember that period pretty clearly, because I thought it was wonderful. Entenmann's came out with no-fat pastries -- the no-fat cherry coffeecake was one of my favorites -- I could eat as much rice as I wanted, pasta was good and more pasta was better, as long as you didn't use butter because of the evil saturated fat and cholesterol.  But margarine, rich in transfats made by hydrogenating corn oil, was much better.

Oddly, this didn't seem to do much about my weight.  I was a vegetarian for a number of those years, and while I lost weight during the relatively short interval in which I was vegan, I also had mood swings and health problems until I added back at least eggs and dairy.