America has been gaining weight steadily for several decades now? Surely, that's no surprise.
Lower income groups experience more obesity than higher income groups? Likely, that's no surprise.
Obesity levels increasing at similar rates across most economic, educational, racial, and ethnic groups? Surprise!
Public Health professionals generally blame the rise in obesity in lower income groups on a lack of healthy foods (for reasons of time, money, and geography), a lack of safe and appealing places to exercise, and a lack of time to pursue either physical activity or healthy eating, were they available. A new report published in CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians, however, suggests that the causes of the trends aren’t nearly as clear as we thought. In the study conducted by a University of Illinois professor, Ruopeng An, it appears that
“Contrary to popular belief, people are exercising more today, have more leisure time and better access to fresh, affordable food – including fruits and vegetables – than they did in past decades. And while troubling disparities exist among various groups, most economic, educational, and racial or ethnic groups have seen their obesity levels rise at similar rates since the mid-1980s”
Data demonstrating different demographics experiencing the same obesity trends is reason to give pause and consider what we have thought to be true: can we blame food deserts for the obesity seen in the associated neighborhoods when obesity levels are rising at the same rate in neighborhoods with exceptional access to fresh food? Can we blame lack of fruits and vegetables for our cultural malnutrition when we appear to be consuming more of them, across every demographic? This study offers no explanations, and provides as many questions as anwers. It does, however, provide a provocative look at the complexity of the environmental factors we know to be at play, and perhaps some foreshadowing into factors we don't yet know.
The data is presented in a series of graphs called “The Obesity Trend” and the full study can be read in the CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians.