A major Health series in today’s Los Angeles Times observes that while food reigns as the “favorite explanation” for Americans’ excess weight, it’s not the best. Sound familiar? It should. Last year, researchers at the Center for Consumer Freedom laid out evidence for that same argument in Small Choices, Big Bodies, a report on how America’s changing lifestyles contribute to our burgeoning behinds.
As the LA Times series points out, the changes between our diets and those of our grandparents are small potatoes compared to the radical transitions in other aspects of American life. Susan Roberts of Tufts University told the paper: “Just think about the 1950s. Everyone was eating white bread, meatloaf (made with white breadcrumbs), potatoes and rice — and were much thinner than today.” On the other hand, the influence of other variables (our growing stress levels, increasing dependence on medications, and stabilizing temperature comfort zone) on our waistline is undeniable. But the public remains largely unaware of these weight-promoting factors due to narrowly focused diet campaigns pushed by radical nutrition activists.
Small Choices, Big Bodies explains how thousands of seemingly small decisions collectively explain our nation’s weight gain. Here are just a few:
Countertop Convenience: Appliances aren’t figure-friendly. Researchers at the Cooper Institute 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—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) and the percentage of 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 its temperature around 98.6°F. 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.
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.
Obesity is just a symptom of choice, a trade-off between conveniences of modern life and metabolisms inherited from our ancestors. 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 decision: Would we rather have more comfort, or less weight? Lawmakers shouldn’t decide for us.