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What’s causing increasing obesity rates in the United States?

A new study examines increasing obesity rates in the United States despite the decline in national sugar consumption.

Obesity rates are still on the rise despite public health initiatives. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 40% of United States citizens are obese. This presents a major threat to public health. The CDC warns that obesity can lead to adverse health effects like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even cancer. People living in the United States consume high levels of sugar beginning in childhood. Some data suggest that pregnant women who consume excessive sugar can put their children at risk to be obese later in life. In the United States, public health efforts have aimed at reducing sugar consumption, a major factor in developing obesity. Despite these efforts, the United States is still seeing increasing obesity rates.

Recently published in Economics & Human Biology, researchers used mathematical equations to compare excess sugar consumption with rates of obesity throughout the years. By looking at how life-long cumulative sugar intakes contribute to obesity, they were able to understand why the United States is seeing increasing obesity rates even though national sugar consumption is in decline. Researchers found that excess sugar consumed during childhood contributes to a total amount over a lifetime. The larger this total amount, the more at risk a person is for obesity. The main take away from the study is that excess sugar consumption in childhood lags by several years in its contribution to adult obesity.

The researchers suggest that this research reveals how the United States is seeing increasing obesity rates despite that national sugar intake peaked in the late nineties and is now in decline. The researchers were able to use this information to create a statistical model that accurately predicted the rise in obesity from 1970 to 2016. This same predictive model also lined up with obesity across age groups of United States citizens in 2015. The only exception was that the predictive model did not fit with those 75 years and older, supposedly because they weren’t exposed to the same levels of excess sugar consumption throughout their lifetime.

As impressive as this information is, sugar is just one factor in obesity. To create a more accurate model, researchers could also look at socioeconomic status, genetics, and medication use. From the many contributing factors, it’s clear that obesity must be combated from multiple angles.

This study drives home the importance of a life-long healthy diet that begins in childhood. It is no longer puzzling that national obesity rates are increasing despite public health measures to cut back on sugar. This research should embolden public health efforts that support healthy diets for US citizens.


Written by Ramsey Akel



Bentley RA, Ruck DJ, Fouts HN. U.S. obesity as delayed effect of excess sugar. Economics & Human Biology. 2019:100818. doi:10.1016/j.ehb.2019.100818.

Expert panel report: Guidelines (2013) for the management of overweight and obesity in adults. Obesity. 2014;22(S2). doi:10.1002/oby.20660.

Goran MI, Dumke K, Bouret SG, Kayser B, Walker RW, Blumberg B. The obesogenic effect of high fructose exposure during early development. Nature Reviews Endocrinology. 2013;9(8):494-500. doi:10.1038/nrendo.2013.108.

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay



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