Your technology is making you fat

Why is the world getting fatter?

It’s popular these days to say that low fat diets of the 1980s are responsible for the obesity problem we’re facing today.  Most criticism of low fat diets is focused on the replacement of fat with sugar, simple carbs, and more processed foods, and I agree that these things are unhealthy and a large part of the problem.

But diets that replace some fats with things like vegetables and lean proteins ARE healthy and conducive to better health, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Sure, human bodies need fat, but they don’t need 50% of their calories from it. I’d never argue that a “traditional” low-fat diet is right for everyone (I’d never argue that any one diet is right for everyone), but I also can’t agree that the focus on low fat is the cause of the issues we see today.

Photo by Flickr user smaedli | CC

If we’re going to honestly look at the last 30 years to try to find causes for expanding waistlines, we should look in our pockets. At our fingertips. On our desks.

For instance, until very recently, I worked in an office where we communicated via instant message. People who sat 10 feet away from each other would type messages rather than get up and walk to visit face to face. There were people in that office who, if it weren’t for their coffee needs and the occasional meeting, might not get out of their chairs for eight hours straight. According to this study:

…from 1960–62 to 2003–06 we estimated that the occupation-related daily energy expenditure decreased by 142 calories in men. Given a baseline weight of 76.9 kg in 1960–02, we estimated that a 142 calories reduction would result in an increase in mean weight to 89.7 kg, which closely matched the mean NHANES weight of 91.8 kg in 2003–06. The results were similar for women.

That might not seem like a lot – just 142 calories a day. But it adds up to almost 10 pounds a year of weight gained. How many trips across an office would it take to burn that many calories? Not too many…

Today, every little bit of information we could possibly ever need is just a click away, and our tiny devices allow us access to it all no matter where we go. No need to hop up off the couch to look up a phone number (consult the smartphone in your pocket). There are hundreds more channels to watch on TV, and it’s been years since changing a channel required anyone to actually stand up. You don’t even have to leave your house to find a book to read (if you still bother reading).

Instant access to everything has made us lazy. Everything is convenient and easy, which is why packaged, processed “food” is so appealing. Rice takes too long to cook so you buy Minute Rice, right? When nothing is worth waiting for or moving for, is it any wonder we’re no longer willing to use our bodies? And is it any wonder those bodies are getting bigger and bigger?

Now, I’m the first one to acknowledge how awesome all this technology is, as I sit here typing away on my lap top in a coffee shop in Eugene, Oregon, writing something people in Singapore or London or Florida might read. But availing myself of the benefits of all this convenience is one thing. Recognizing what it might be doing to society as a whole is quite another.


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