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Why it’s harder to lose weight today than ever before

There may be more to blame for Americans’ increasing waistlines than poor diet and lack of exercise, according to new research published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice.

Researchers looked at diet and exercise data collected on more than 36,000 adults between 1981 and 2008. They found that, for the same amount of food consumed, people were about 10 percent heavier in 2008 than they were in 1971. For the same amount of physical activity performed, people were about 5 percent heavier in 2006 than in 1988.

“This is because weight management is actually much more complex than just ‘energy in’ versus ‘energy out,’ ” said Jennifer Kuk, lead researcher and professor at York University, in a news release. “That’s similar to saying your investment account balance is simply your deposits subtracting your withdrawals and not accounting for all the other things that affect your balance like stock market fluctuations, bank fees or currency exchange rates.”

In addition to “calories in, calories out,” researchers said other factors also play a role when it comes to body weight, including:

  • Medication use
  • Pollutants in the environment
  • Genetics
  • The time of day people eat
  • Stress
  • Nighttime light exposure

“This study brings up some important points, as external factors do play a role in many aspects of our health, including weight management,” says Dr. Paul Ringel, internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “However, it’s important to remember that eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are by far the most essential steps to losing weight and keeping it off. And, unlike some of these other factors, they are two things you can control.”

Dr. Ringel offers the following tips for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight:

  • Aim for at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Limit fats and processed foods.
  • Always eat breakfast.
  • Watch your portion sizes. When dining out, consider splitting an entrée with a friend or having half of it packaged to take home to avoid the temptation to overeat.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and avoid soda and sugary beverages.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise five or more days a week. Need extra motivation? Get a workout partner and hold each other accountable.
  • Build physical activity into your daily life. Take a walk at lunch instead of sitting at your computer. Choose the stairs instead of an elevator.

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