The Beginning of Obesity: When Did the Problem Start?
It’s everywhere. Wherever you look you will find someone overweight, or even obese. Children are no exception. They, too, are being plagued by obesity. How did we get to this point? More importantly, why did we get to this point?
Thousands of years ago, humans were nomads, that is, they never settled in one place. They would travel from place to place, typically seasonally, in search of food and water. However, everything changed with the arrival of agriculture and cities. Humans became sedentary. They no longer had to travel in search of food, now food came to them.
Why did this represent a problem? Humans were designed to accumulate corporal fat to be used in times of need. This fat reserve allowed our ancestors to maintain a good level of energy even when food was scarce. It was a game of gain and lose. They would gain pounds when food was available, and lose them when there wasn’t any. Also, keep in mind that they had to walk to get around, thus burning up calories and making them lose weight. This was a constant cycle.
Today, most people don’t really have the need to accumulate corporal fat, since food is available 24/7. We live in an environment that offers an abundance of food. In medical terms, this is called an obesogenic environment. In this type of environment, the genes that were once responsible for keeping us alive, are now the ones responsible for keeping us fat. Of course, not only genes are to blame. We are overeating, and exercise is almost out of our vocabulary. This has turned into such an epidemic that around 500 million people around the world are considered obese.
Back in the Day There Was no Obesity
In the nomad days, sugar, salt and alcohol were unknown. Humans were forced to have a diet that consisted of the combination of meat with nuts and vegetables. This diet was low in carbohydrates, and high in protein and micronutrients, with less sodium and more fiber. Humans living during this time also used three times more energy than we do now.
Agriculture and Its Effects Towards an Obese World
Almost 3,000 years ago, the majority of societies were already practicing agriculture. Even though the amount of energy they used wasn’t comparable to that of nomad societies, people in this time were certainly working all year long, using more energy than we do today.
However, agriculture moved societies away from hunting, thus changing their eating habits. People started to depend more on vegetable carbohydrates, and less on animal protein. Inevitably, a change in health also occurred. There were more cases of Anemia for lack of iron, and tooth decay caused by a diet high in carbohydrates. People started to rely heavily on cereals (corn, wheat, rice), since they were easier and cheaper to consume. The human body did not adapt to such rapid changes, and even though there was more food available, the new diet took a toll on health.
The obesogenic environments of today have also taken a toll in our health. We live in a society that heavily promotes unhealthy, high caloric foods, and drinks with high amounts of sugar. If that weren’t enough, technology has reduced our physical mobility to a minimum. We no longer have to walk to get anywhere. We don’t even have to get up to change the channel in the TV.
Globalization has also contributed to the obesity phenomenon by the proliferation of fast food restaurant chains. Unhealthy food is available at very competitive prices, and highly promoted in aggressive marketing campaigns.
We have all the factors to make the obesity problem worse and worse. And from the way things are looking, this problem will dramatically increase unless a good plan is put to action.