Do you know how much your remote control set you back? Not the retail value, but its price in term of calories. Though you might not think about it, there’s a physical cost of modern conveniences (washing machines, elevators, power steering, etc.). Every manual task replaced by an automated version creates a calorie surplus. And those extra calories turn into excess fat.
Sure, there have also been some changes between our diets and those of our grandparents. (Remember, lard was still a staple ingredient in the ‘50s.) But the most radical transitions since their generation have occurred in other aspects of life. At home, in the office, and on the road, technology’s influence on our waistline is undeniable. But the public remains distracted from its activity-free lifestyle by narrowly focused anti-food campaigns pushed by radical nutrition activists and book-selling diet "gurus." Not any more.
Today, we launched Small Choices, Big Bodies: a new look at the way America’s changing lifestyles contribute to our burgeoning behinds. This inventory of our daily lives reveals thousands of seemingly small decisions that collectively explain our nation’s weight gain. Click here to download the full report.
Here are just a few:
Countertop Convenience: Appliances aren’t figure-friendly. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic calculated that replacing household chores — like washing dishes, mowing the lawn, and cleaning the car — with mechanized versions can decrease energy expenditure from 10,500 to 1,700 calories every month. That’s a rate of 30 pounds per year.
Choosing Not to Move: Sitting up straight, vacuuming the house, chewing gum, and even fidgeting are all exercise in disguise. Improving your posture throughout the day can burn an extra 350 calories. Fidgeting can give your metabolism as much as a 40 percent bump. Researchers estimate that these mini-activities vary by as much as 2000 calories each day from one person to the next. So choosing to move is choosing to lose (weight, of course).
Taking it Sitting Down: We sit a lot. The average time spent watching television (1,672 hours annually) and the proportion of U.S. workers who commute by car (88 percent) have steadily risen over the past few decades. This time spent off our feet is showing up on our scales. Researchers found that for every additional 60 minutes per day that people spend in a car, their odds of being obese increase by 6 percent.
Turning up the Heat: The human body works hard to keep maintain a stable temperature . The farther (colder or hotter) the surrounding temperature moves away from that point, the more energy the body has to burn. But modern air-conditioning and heating does the work for us. One study calculated the energy difference between a climate-controlled and a mildly cold environment to be as much as 347 calories a day (36 pounds a year).
On the Career Fat Track: Americans are increasingly spending their nine-to-fives in the comfort of a chair. From 1950 to 2000, the number of Americans employed in low-activity occupations grew by 42.2 million. Studies show that for every two hours spent sitting at work, those workers increase their obesity risk by as much as 7 percent. Even changes as little as spending two minutes each hour sending e-mails to colleagues rather than two minutes walking to their offices can translate into more than a pound gained each year.
Click here for more causes of weight gain.
Obesity is a symptom of choice, a trade-off between conveniences of modern life and metabolic mechanisms inherited from our ancestors. As Americans, we have the freedom to choose where we work, how we travel, and what we do. It’s not as black-and-white as salad versus steak. Our days are speckled with countless decisions that give us plenty of wiggle room in our diets, and even some in our belts.
Ultimately, it boils down to this: Would we rather have more comfort or less weight? And whatever our choice, lawmakers shouldn’t decide for us.