Sugar's Impact on Obesity

Jul 22, 2021 09:03:51AM

Obesity numbers are on the rise, and the health impacts of this epidemic can be felt around the world. How does sugar impact these numbers, and what does this impact mean in your life? Read on to learn more. 

The Rising Prevalence of Obesity

As of 2018, the prevalence of obesity was 42.4% in American adults (up from 30.5% in 2000). Obesity is determined using BMI (a scale of height vs. weight), and a BMI of 30 or greater falls into the obesity category. (A BMI between 25-30 is classified as “overweight.”) Childhood obesity numbers are also up, with 1 in 5 children affected.

Causes of Obesity

While obesity itself is a complicated condition with many contributing factors, the math that gets you there is pretty straightforward. When calorie consumption from food and beverages exceeds calorie expenditure from physical activity and metabolism, weight is gained. When enough weight is gained, an obesity classification is reached.

There’s no denying that diets have drastically changed in the last century. Portion sizes have dramatically increased (especially in the categories of cookies, pasta, muffins, steak, and bagels, but increases have been seen in essentially every category) and people are eating outside the home more than ever before. Restaurant food, particularly fast food, is high in calories, saturated fats, sugars, and other additives while often containing few essential nutrients like vitamins, fiber, etc. These eating habits certainly contribute to the obesity epidemic.

Finally, there’s no ignoring the relationship between sugar and obesity at both societal and individual levels. Sugar consumption has been linked with obesity as diets contain more and more sugar over time, and studies show that sugar intake is a determinant of body weight. This just proves what we all know – that eating lots of foods that are high in refined sugars (and therefore high in calories) leads to weight gain and eventually obesity if the pattern isn’t halted.

A Complicated Relationship

While most people understand the physical relationship between sugar, calories, and obesity, stepping out of the cycle can be harder than it sounds. For many people, the cycle goes something like this: you eat too much sugar and start gaining weight, which makes you feel bad about yourself. The sugar addiction, emotional eating, and sugar cravings have kicked in by then, so you eat even more sugar to make yourself feel better… and instead you feel even worse. This negative cycle leads to overeating and weight gain as well as the emotional stresses that accompany both.

Sugary Drinks Deserve Extra Attention

Of particular importance in the sugar-obesity relationship are sugar-sweetened beverages, since they are the single largest source of calories and added sugar in the US diet. These drinks (like sodas, juices, energy drinks, sports drinks, coffee drinks with added sugar, etc.) contribute to obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, tooth decay, gout, and other health problems.

Diabetes and Obesity

Obesity is linked with many diseases and can impact health in many negative ways. Type 2 diabetes, in particular, is interlinked with obesity. As sugar consumption increases, the pancreas works harder to produce more insulin, and over time your body can become less sensitive to that insulin (this impairment is characteristic of type 2 diabetes). As sugar consumption increases, risk of both obesity and type 2 diabetes increases, exacerbating many health conditions and increasing risk of death and disease. 

Health Problems Associated with Obesity and Sugar

In addition to being tied in a cycle with type 2 diabetes, obesity due to excessive sugar consumption can cause other health problems:

Obesity and its myriad health problems can often be linked back to eating large quantities of added sugar, and sugar consumption has contributed to the obesity epidemic in ways both subtle and overt.

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