Why do two-thirds of American adults now shop for XXL sizes and huff and puff on the rare occasions they are forced to walk more than 50 feet?

obesity epidemic

Is it due to “fat” genes? Lack of information about nutrition or exercise regimens? The purportedly high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables? A conspiracy by the processed food industry? That evil Ronald McDonald and his brethren? Or is an epidemic of immediate gratification sweeping the country?

My answer: None of the above. The villain? Our modern lifestyle and work habits practically guarantee that most of us will resemble humpy dumpty rather than the buffed athlete with the perfect physique who adorns the Wheaties box.

wheaties box

It’s easy to see how we develop the habit of overeating. Inexpensive, high calorie food is available 24/7 everywhere. Just cruise through the drive-thru, walk through the office kitchen, or put your coins in the vending machine. Want a sit-down meal? You won’t do any better. Order a meal in any restaurant from fast casual to pricey gourmet, and your server will deliver a football player sized hunk of protein and enough starch to feed an impoverished nation. What you won’t get is more than three pieces of plant material.

restaurant meal

Not moving our bodies has become as natural as incessantly checking our smartphones. I grew up accustomed to using my legs for transportation and sprinting whenever a cabbie tried to make me into a flattened cartoon character. But New York City is an aberration. Most locales cater only to four wheeled vehicles. Sidewalks have become unreliable. Without warning they come to a screeching halt and you’re forced into the street. Hoofing it through a mall parking lot instead of parking directly in front of your favorite store is tantamount to a death wish.

Most of us are desk jockeys. We obediently sit and stare at a computer screen, entranced, for eight hours or more. Those motion sensor lights are so annoying when they decide there’s no sign of human life in your office and leave you in the dark. Don’t know about you, but I feel slightly foolish waving my arms to prove I’m still breathing.

desk jockeys

Some of us are even reluctant to drink water because it might precipitate a bathroom break. We can’t fit that into our busy schedules. Leaving our electronic post for even a few minutes is tantamount to shirking our job responsibilities.

The ubiquitous drive-thru represents the epitome of our sedentary, multi-tasking lives. It provides an unparalleled opportunity to remain completely immobile, while unconsciously devouring junk food, checking our email, and trying to drive without hitting anything large enough to put a big dent in our SUV.


But, is this any way to live? Aren’t we going to pay a price for our self-neglect at some point? You bet. We already are. The annual medical cost of obesity, according to the CDC, is a whopping $147 billion.  It’s not that we’re not trying to lose weight. After all, someone is fueling the $40 billion per year weight loss industry. The problem is that the “quick fix” doesn’t change lifestyles. It only prolongs the agony by starting an endless cycle of shedding and reacquiring the same pounds.  

The keys? Be a realist. Start changing your lifestyle by setting small, achievable goals. Create accountability. Celebrate small victories. Focus on the positive—getting healthier. Avoid the scale. And, most importantly: Don’t even think about making any change that you can’t sustain for the rest of your life!