How We All Get Fat Over Time: A Breakdown of Culprits.

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So the NIH has come out with a study of 120,000 U.S. patients tracked over thirty years.  Big numbers and some compelling facts about U.S. weight. 

The average weight gain over each four-year period was about 3.35 pounds.  Breaking down this weight gain, we have some culprits for weight gain (numbers overlap):

potato chips 1.69 lb

potatoes  1.28 lb

sugar-sweetened beverages 1.00 lb

unprocessed red meat 0.95 lb

processed  meats 0.93 lb 

Those seeking to lose weight would be eating the following:

vegetables -0.22 lb

whole grains -0.37 lb

fruits -0.49 lb

nuts -0.57 lb

and yogurt -0.82 lb

Add in physical activity:  -1.76 lb

Moderate your alcohol intake:  0.41 lb per drink per day

don’t smoke (new quitters 5.17 lb, old quitters 0.14 lb)

sleep between six and eight hours (more or less leads to weight gain)

cut down on TV watching: 0.31 lb per hour per day

Don’t believe me?  Fine.  Here’s the abstract from the New England Journal of Medicine.

N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23;364(25):2392-404.

Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men.


Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.



Specific dietary and other lifestyle behaviors may affect the success of the straightforward-sounding strategy “eat less and exercise more” for preventing long-term weight gain.


We performed prospective investigations involving three separate cohorts that included 120,877 U.S. women and men who were free of chronic diseases and not obese at baseline, with follow-up periods from 1986 to 2006, 1991 to 2003, and 1986 to 2006. The relationships between changes in lifestyle factors and weight change were evaluated at 4-year intervals, with multivariable adjustments made for age, baseline body-mass index for each period, and all lifestyle factors simultaneously. Cohort-specific and sex-specific results were similar and were pooled with the use of an inverse-variance-weighted meta-analysis.


Within each 4-year period, participants gained an average of 3.35 lb (5th to 95th percentile, -4.1 to 12.4). On the basis of increased daily servings of individual dietary components, 4-year weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips (1.69 lb), potatoes (1.28 lb), sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb), unprocessed red meats (0.95 lb), and processed meats (0.93 lb) and was inversely associated with the intake of vegetables (-0.22 lb), whole grains (-0.37 lb), fruits (-0.49 lb), nuts (-0.57 lb), and yogurt (-0.82 lb) (P≤0.005 for each comparison). Aggregate dietary changes were associated with substantial differences in weight change (3.93 lb across quintiles of dietary change). Other lifestyle factors were also independently associated with weight change (P<0.001), including physical activity (-1.76 lb across quintiles); alcohol use (0.41 lb per drink per day), smoking (new quitters, 5.17 lb; former smokers, 0.14 lb), sleep (more weight gain with <6 or >8 hours of sleep), and television watching (0.31 lb per hour per day).


Specific dietary and lifestyle factors are independently associated with long-term weight gain, with a substantial aggregate effect and implications for strategies to prevent obesity. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health and others.).


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