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Obesity: Is the problem what or how much we eat?

We’ve all seen the articles, headlines and posts on our friends’ Facebook pages alternately blaming various foods or ingredients in our foods for obesity. Fat, red meat, sugar, “carbs” (cabohydrates), gluten, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and GMO’s (genetically engineered food) have all been criticized. Each year it seems we have another food or ingredient that takes the stage as one that we demonize. But could the problem be more basic than that?

Calories then and calories now

I recently came across an interesting graph showing food/calorie intake from 1961 until 2013 ( There are various ways you can look at the graph as it breaks down calorie consumption from macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) as well as from commodity (food) groups (sugar, fats/oil, meat, dairy and eggs, fruit and vegetables, starchy roots, pulses (beans/legumes), cereals and grains).

One of the most startling things for me was comparing average per capita calorie intake from 1961 (the year I was born) — 2,859 calories — to calorie intake in 2013 — 3,652 calories. You can clearly see that in the United States we now consume close to 800 additional calories per day! That is like consuming an extra meal every day.

So perhaps we need to ask ourselves, is the villain really that one food or ingredient or the fact that we have managed to supersize our meals and snacks? This increase in calories coupled with a decrease in activity is often a major factor in weight gain among adults and children.

Food is everywhere

If you were a child in the 1960s or even the 1970s, think about how things have changed:

  • There are more opportunities to eat out. More restaurants include fast-food/quick serve restaurants.
  • Food can be ordered online and delivered to your home.
  • Food and snacks are more readily available. You can find candy bars in the lingerie section of your favorite department store and the checkout line of your home improvement store.
  • Portion sizes and even the sizes of plates used to serve food at home and in restaurants have increased.

What can you do?

  • Be conscious of “mindless” eating and snacking when you are at your desk or watching TV.
  • Consider if you really need a snack and remember those calories should figure into your total intake.
  • Even “healthy” foods like avocado, fruit, whole grains and 100 percent fruit juices still have calories.
  • Track your calories with tools like My Fitness Pal ( and the USDA’s My Plate ( to get an idea of how many calories you are eating and drinking.

Talk to Leah

Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at, 800-334-4936 or at