The Unexamined Life

Why People Were Thinner In The Past And More Obese At Present

You get on that weighing scale and you are still two times heavier despite eating and exercising like your lunch buddy who’s an 80s kid. 

Well, not a surprise, since a study in 2015 found that people today are 10 percent heavier than their counterparts from the 80s.

Why is this so even with complying to a balanced diet and religiously working out?

“The reason it was easier for people to be skinny in the 1980s, researchers think, is because of several hidden factors that we might not have taken into account,” Olga Khazan, staff writer at The Atlantic, said

She elaborated that factors like chemicals, drugs and microbiomes are the leading cause why people now are more obese than people in the past. 

Chemicals can be found almost everywhere in everything we surround ourselves with everyday. They are in flame retardants used to preserve furnitures, pesticides to cultivate vegetables, additives to prolong the edibility of foods and cleaning agents and plastics.

According to Khazan, these chemicals could actually be changing the way the body burns energy or stores fat. “It could be making small but meaningful differences,” she added.

Drugs such as antidepressants widely prescribed to people for managing serious medical conditions is another culprit. It could cause unintended weight gain to people under the medication.

“Some of them do appear just to make you hungrier and make you eat more, but there’s also a possibility that they’re affecting your body in the same way, that they’re potentially changing they way your body burns energy, and could be leading to some weight retention,” Khazan explained.

The third factor is the microbiome. 

“The microbiome is any organism, virus, fungi, bacteria that lives in or on the human host. The most abundant microbiome actually is in the GI tract so when we talk about the human microbiome, most of us are talking about the GI tract microbes.” Dr. Rutchi Mathur, an endocrinologist and associate professor of medicine in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, explained.

The presence of the microbes in the gut influence weight. They breakdown fibers and convert them to energy, thus regulating the appetite.

However, the “Western” diet that is low in fiber and high in fat inhibits the good bacteria from doing its job.

“And all of a sudden, we’re kind of screwing them up by giving them all these things they’re not used to doing, and processing, and I think that’s part of what we’re seeing,” Mathur said.

Unlike in the past, people are more weighty today because of the chemicals we can hardly live without, taking in antidepressants and changes in our microbiomes.

Obese women Two overweight women walk at the 61st Montgomery County Agricultural Fair in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Aug. 19, 2009. Getty Images/AFP/Tim Sloan