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Causes of Obesity in Men

It’s time to face up to what overeating and inactivity are doing to us

Can genes cause obesity in men? continued...

We all know a few men who can quaff and stuff it all in their wooden legs and still weigh what they did in college. Some people are more predisposed to gain more weight than others, and research indicates that gaining weight rapidly as an infant is associated with a higher risk of adult obesity.

“We don’t know whether the weight gain in infancy is a cause of obesity, or whether they are both controlled by the same gene or perhaps by cultural practices,” says Nicolas Stettler, MD, MSCE, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania. But it may well be that some of us developed metabolic patterns in infancy that continue to influence our eating habits throughout life.

But genes don’t explain the increase in obesity. “I think we can safely say that at the end of the day, the cause of obesity is eating more than you need for your physical activity,” says Stettler. “We eat more, and the availability of more sedentary entertainment leads people to be more sedentary.”

Bigger portions breed bigger appetites which can lead to obesity

Men eat 70% more at a sitting than women do, Rolls tells WebMD. But, she says, men are “the primordial eating machines.” They tend to listen to their bodies more while women eat what they think they are supposed to eat.

The biggest change in eating habits, Rolls believes, is portion size, which started growing in the 1970s in restaurants and recipe books. Then supersizing really took off in the 1980s. It might seem logical to assume that when a person eats a really big meal that person will back off on subsequent meals or days. But Rolls’ research has shown this not to be the case.

At her laboratory, she feeds human test subjects large portion sizes without telling them and observes how they respond. They respond by pigging out. Over a period of 11 days, in a recent experiment, the overfed group sucked up 5,000 more calories than the “control” group, which was given healthy, complete meals but with half the portion size.

Obviously, there are vested interests in favor of selling more food and drink, even if that does help fuel the obesity epidemic. “From the popcorn stand in movie theaters to fast food, we’ve been had by the most skilled advertising people in the world,” says Blackburn. “They keep telling us that it’s our right to be instantly gratified. Well, there’s a sucker born every minute, and you’re a sucker to let yourself gain more than 20 pounds in 20 years.”

Fighting back: How bigger portions can be used to stem the rise in obesity

When it comes to finding solutions to the fat epidemic, Rolls has done some pragmatic thinking. Her research told her that it would be difficult to convince people to eat smaller meals. So what she has done is focused on encouraging them to eat less energy-dense meals.

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