Two Startling Facts About Weight Gain


I came across two articles that illustrate sobering realities about gaining weight.

From John Hawks via the New York Times:

Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.

These insights have been made possible by new technology that has allowed researchers to compare the phytonutrient content of wild plants with the produce in our supermarkets. The results are startling.

And apparently the whole animal kingdom is fighting an obesity epidemic.

Among colonized chimpanzees, males and females, respectively, experienced a 33.2 and 37.2 per cent weight gain per decade, and a nearly 18-fold and 11-fold increase in the odds of obesity.

If you read the rest of the article, you’ll find that practically every animal that’s been domesticated the last 100 years has experienced weight gain on a scale similar to that of humans.  This sort of finding reminds me of the paper that found healthcare spending on pets is rising just as fast as healthcare spending on humans.

My instinctive reaction to reading this was concern, but there are three positives to take away from this:

1). A lot of weight gain probably has a correlation to health, and not disease.  That’s probably less so the last decade, but almost certainly a lot of this weight gain has made the domesticated animals better off than their wild counterparts.

2).  If every species is getting fat at about the same rate, it points to a universal reason for weight gain, and thus a potential solution that could have a widespread application.  Maybe obesity is a curable disease after all.

3).  I think this is strong evidence for the importance of taking supplements.  Lots of health advocates stress the importance of getting everything you need from your diet, but it seems more and more likely that this may not be enough for the majority of people, especially substances that are minimally processed and maintain the relative proportions of micronutrients found in nature.

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  1. My grandma used to have a garden, and the vegetables were always delicious and I agree that todays produce is probably not as nutritous as it was 50 years ago. Crops have been selected by agriculture for resistance to pesticides, caloric density, and physical appearance, not nutrients.


  1. […] By and large these requirements are useful and promote sustainable farming, since there’s a decent amount of evidence that nutrient density in soil has gone down drastically the last several hundred years. […]

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