A 1970 Answer to the Rising Obesity Rate
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A 1970 Answer to the Rising Obesity Rate

Looking back to 1970 when the obesity rate was low compared with today, we can find the reason for the rising obesity problem and the answer of how to lose weight.

Today we have a thousand diet books telling us to eat this and not eat that. Yet the obesity rate is still rising. Nothing seems to be working. Looking back to 1970 when the obesity rate was low compared with today, we can find the reasons for the rising obesity rate and learn how to lose weight.

Obesity Increase Since 1960

Watch an old TV show from the 1940s through 1970. You hardly saw anyone who was obese and today even commercials are now showing normal Americans as being quite overweight. It has become the normal. This is not meant to be a derogatory article towards people who are overweight. It is to show how so many of us became overweight without realizing it until we were overweight. A subtle change we aren’t even aware of as it is happening.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30. Currently 34 percent of Americans adults are considered obese. In 1960, 13 percent of Americans were considered obese, a 162% increase [1].

The Availability of Food Since 1970

The availability of food and food choices per person has increased dramatically since 1970. If it is available, people will eat it, and it has made unhealthy food cheaper.

In 1970, there was 2,057 available calories per person per day and in 2008 there was 2,674 available calories. A 30 percent increase. Below are the increases in availability of certain food items since 1970 [2].

  • Corn flour and corn meal increased 177%
  • Corn starch increased 132%
  • White and whole wheat flour increased 20%
  • Cheese (Italian, American, others) increased 329%
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increased 9,585%
  • Sugar availability actually decreased by 35%
  • Cooking and salad oils increased 253%, and oils are fat.
  • Carbonated soft drinks (non-diet) increased 60%

Over-Consumption and Obesity

According to the USDA 2000 Fact Book, Americans increased their caloric intake by 530 calories or 24.5 percent since 1970. You have to do a lot of exercises to burn an extra 530 calories per day. The majority of that 24.5 percent increase in consumption was almost entirely in refined grains, added fats and oils and added sugars [3].

In 1970, people didn’t guzzle soda pop like it was water. Since 1978, soft drink consumption in the US has tripled for males and doubled for females. Males age 12-29 now drink over 160 gallons of soft drinks per year.

According to the American Dental Association, Americans were consuming an average of 53 gallons of soft drinks per person every year in 2001. That is more than the consumption of water. Over the past 50 years in the US, soft drink consumption has increased by 500%. [4]

Percent of obese adults in 1985.  Interactive Map by CDC

Corn, the Government and Cheap Food

Could the inflation of the mid 1970's with Americans screaming for cheaper food started the obesity problem?

We have seen how the availability of high fructose corn syrup has risen dramatically. HFCS was cheaper than sugar by 1980.

The huge increase in fast food meals since 1970 could be a cause for the rising obesity rate, which some then blame on the huge increase in corn, since cheap corn in some form is probably in most items you buy at a grocery store or a fast food place. Cheap corn is in the hamburgers, the buns, the soda pop and the sauces they use. There are conflicting studies as to whether or not HFCS causes us to gain more weight than sugar. Believable studies say that it does. [5]

  • In 1970, most meals were cooked at home. Today eating at fast food places or take out has almost tripled since 1970.
  • In 1970, we didn’t go to the grocery store and have thousands of high-sodium fattening processed food choices tempting us.
  • In 1970, we didn’t have so many chemically laden processed foods like we do today.
  • In 1970, most of our foods did not have a longer list of ingredients than hair shampoo does. Real food has almost gone the way of black and white television.

I wonder if someone from 1955 ate one of today’s processed meals, would they recognize the food or even like it. Very high sodium levels, high fructose corn syrup and chemicals that weren’t even invented in the 1950s are today called food.

Could there be something about the chemicals in processed foods that causes weight gain or possibly causes us to not feel full and eat more.

 Can Processed Foods Cause Obesity

Yes, processed foods can lead to obesity. Scientist at Pomona College in California fed two groups of people the exact same amount of calories. The only difference was that one group’s calories came from processed foods and the other group’s calories came from whole foods.

The conclusion of the study found that the energy expenditure decreased by 50% after the processed food meal compared with the whole foods meals. This reduction is daily energy or calorie burning can lead to becoming overweight and obesity [6].

Percentage of obese adults in 2010. Map by CDC

A 1970 Answer to the Rising Obesity Rate

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that less activity played a minor role in the rising obesity rate, and that over-consumption of food was the main reason for the higher obesity rate since 1970. It concluded that to get back to the average weights of the 1970s, adults would have to cut out 500 calories per day and children would have to eat 350 fewer calories per day [7].

The most obvious answer to the obesity question is that the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study is correct. It is not as hard as you think to eat or drink 500 fewer calories per day. A large fries is 500 calories right there.

The 1970 answer to the rising obesity rate is simply eating less, like people did in 1970. If you are overweight or obese and ate 500 fewer calories per day, that would equal 3,500 fewer calories per week. You could possibly lose 52 pounds in one year since there are 3,500 calories to one pound. If 52 pounds in a year doesn’t sound like much, remember, you didn’t become overweight in one year either.

The 1970 answer to obesity, cook more of your own meals at home. This way you can control the sodium, sugar, ingredients and portion size and avoid the chemicals. When you go to the grocery store, ignore all of those high sodium fattening and processed food and snack choices that really didn’t exist in 1970.


We all love food and there are so many fattening and sugary choices today. All of the high sodium, fatty or sugary foods could become some kind of addiction for many or just a normal habit that has to be broken.

Stop looking for magic diets, losing weight is not magical or a fast process. Honestly count your calories each day, not missing anything. Just don’t consider it a diet that once you reach some goal you can go back to over-consuming. It is a mindset, and one that today’s kids especially need to learn.

Copyright © May 2011 Sam Montana


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Comments (18)

Food is only part to blame... I would also say being lazy is largely to blame - people want everything fast.. fast is also full of crap. My mother was a stay at home mom - we never ate the food that other families - where the moms were working - ate - why? because my mom had the TIME and ENERGY to make good food.. other parents make more money (by having both work) but at the end of the day are too tired and lazy to make good food for their kids. We cannot say that "poverty" is making people fat although so many will try to say that..I was poor for many years following the death of my first husband, heck even when he was alive we lived below the poverty line - we were not fat. good points you made too, I guess I got sidetracked!

Great article on some of the reasons why people in many countries around the world are becoming obese not just in the US. I have felt it was because of the introduction of all these convenience foods and all the additives they contain. Very few people eat real home cooked food as it is all to easy to pop a ready meal into the microwave.

For everyone who are serious to lose weight, this is a MUST read.

Amazing stats.

Very good article.

Very good article Sam and much food for thought (no pun intended)...I wonder how much filler goes into processed food?

I must say technology is partly to blame about the increase of obesity to date. Since less activity induced by pressing buttons instead of doing things manually we had fallen into the trend. How many of us were caught up facing the computer monitor for hours each day and how we have been fascinated by the wonders of the world wide web becomes a significant factor. Another interesting topic, Sam.

Ranked #15 in Weight Loss

Wonderful article! I cut soda out of my diet years ago now and have never looked back. There is a ridiculous amount of sugar in the stuff and our bodies prefer water anyway... it's manufacturers and advertising that are partly blame for the reason we fill them with rubbish (that and the fact they pile so much sugar into them anyway). Fast food, whilst wonderfully convenient, isn't a great meal and it's about time someone came up with a healthy fast food take away idea. Sushi and Salad to go perhaps? *Grins*

A very good, well researched and informative article - thanks!

Ranked #30 in Weight Loss

As per usual, excellently researched and presented article, Sam. These statistics are appalling: "Males age 12-29 now drink over 160 gallons of soft drinks per year." and "High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) increased 9,585%" OMG!!

Ranked #21 in Weight Loss

Nice article .Thanks

Somewhere around 1960 and 1970, they removed home cooked meals from the school system in favor of usig outside food contractors, Marriott bing the biggest one. Working in that industry for many years, I began to notice problems with obesity and young children. leadig to learning disabilities. If you give a child a breakfast consisiting of biscuit, doughnut, orange juice and processed canned fruit and 4 hours later feed that child a meal with processed foods high in sodium and carbs, somewhere around 1 pm they are going to crash with some major behavioral issues, becoming hyperactive and having issues of anger and reslessness. Since before the 60s, we have always been told that the sugar , salt and starches our children eat is and will continue to affect their ability to learn and stay focussed, So why is it so different now, except for tagging it with new names, I call it the ABC disease (ADHD). It goes back to, we are what we eat.

Excellent comment Francina.

Fantastic article and I completely agree. I've long believed that processed foods are the main problem behind rising obesity levels, especially low fat foods. There may be less fat but some much more crap is added to make it palatable. We recently went through a period of eating a lot of processed foods due to time spent in hospital and recovering from surgery - it was easier to grab some take out that cook (I am ashamed at this!). Thankfully we are back on track and I have dug out my out cookbooks for some homemade versions of take out that the kids like. My two are definitely enjoying helping me to make homemade pizza, burgers, cakes, and biscuits and I am happy knowing that the foods they are eating are (while higher in fat that the store bought varieties) made with natural ingredients and much better for them. Gone are the disgusting and fatty nuggets, instead my kids are eating fresh (real) chicken that I bake myself - I never thought I would see the day my 3 year old would 'ask' for yummy chicken and mashed potato or homemade oven baked fries!

Ranked #1 in Weight Loss

Hi Emma. Processed foods have become so prevalent it takes a chemist to figure out the ingredients anymore. Even strict vegans end up eating unhealthy processed foods. When you look at the ingredients of what was once healthy meat alternatives like Boca Burgers or Gardenburgers, you see all kinds of funny ingredients. I think whole food is the healthy answer and the fewer ingredients the better. Cooking your own meals is healthy and cooking enough for leftovers or second dinners is also frugal and healthy. I am a big believer in grass-fed beef for those who eat meat. I refuse to eat feedlot beef anymore. For a change to French fries, try making sweet potato french fries, very good. It is easy to get into the habit of grabbing an easy to make processed food meal and the marketers and advertisers know this much better than us consumers. We have to constantly watch the ingredients of everything we buy to eat. I also wrote another article you might like to read http://factoidz.com/processed-food-whatever-happened-to-real-food/

You have a solid focal point.Thank you for your wisdom and I fully agree with the processed foods and the utter inactivity of our society which have been a big influence on the weight problems.

has anyone concidered formula as a cause of obiesety, formula was mass marketed and used begining in 1970 which is when all the obisity rates went up too?  anyone else making a connection?