What's the root cause of our obesity?
We have obese newborns. Babies, breastfed, full term, no history of maternal gestational diabetes, who get very, very fat very early.
Almost everybody is fatter today. We weigh more than we would have weighed 100-200 years ago.
Now we talk about getting the body we “deserve” if we put in the "hard work".
But a century ago, people were apparently much more deserving. You didn’t have to follow the latest diet or head for a workout. Pretty much everybody got a normal weight body and went about their lives.
And it wasn’t because they ate diets with few carbs. Some places with the most centenarians eat very high carbohydrate diets.
What happened to us? And to our kids? What happened to my newborn? What is the true root cause of obesity?
Not the sugar your kid eats now, but the sugar his great-great grandparents, great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents ate.
I used to think my child’s problem was caused by all the processed carbs and sugar in our diet. I’ve been a low-carb fangirl for a long time.
But when I was being less critical of myself I realized, my kids didn’t eat that much processed food or sugar, especially compared to their peers.
Also, when I looked back, my child had been a high weight since a few weeks after her birth. Even as an exclusively breast-fed newborn. What happened to breast-is-best? How could it be her diet? Was my newborn supposed to exercise?
The other logic that didn’t pencil out was… Asia. Until fairly recently, people have eaten high-carb polished rice diets and stayed thin.
Doctors, scientists and journalists are now pointing to sugar as the root cause of the obesity epidemic. My favorite books on this are these.
- "The Case Against Sugar" by journalist Gary Taubes.
- "Fat Chance" by pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Richard Lustig
They all argue show that eating sugar is toxic to our organs, specifically the liver, and pushes our bodies to a tipping point. And that the reaction to the sugar is transmitted over generations as obesity.
Whereas before, we could eat a lot of carbohydrate with no consequences, now, we can’t handle the carbs without getting fat.
Dr. Lustig ran a very short term study of kids with obesity. He took them off sugar for 10 days and all of their metabolic markers improved.
These books hypothesize that if you had a baby that seemed overweight shortly after birth, you’re seeing the impact of sugar toxicity across a few generations. This isn't genetics, it's epigenetics. The impact of the environment on genes.
Specifically, something about the womb environment is so sugary that the baby adapts, developing differently to deal with the sugar blast coming his way.
The baby is born insulin resistant.
I’ve heard of, and am duly frightened by, other explanations for obesity rates, like toxic chemicals and gut microbe disruption. But the incidents of obesity started to rise long before some of these culprits were even invented. If obesity is caused by gut microbes disrupted by penicillin, why did obesity rates rise before the discovery of penicillin in 1928? I'm scared of the toxic chemicals that are now found in all of our bodies - fire retardants and endocrine-disruptive ingredients in our food storage plastics and cans. But they were put into widespread use long after obesity rates started to climb.
As a parent, being able to point to a cause reinforces that this is something that happened to my daughter, not something that's her fault. It's not a show of her character or her strength, or her, really, at all. It just happened and we'll help her.