Obesity and Diabetes
Gifts from the CAFO

Obesity and Diabetes Trends

There is no debate that there are obesity and diabetes epidemics in the United States. 

Obesity, per the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is determined to be a Body Mass Index of 30 or greater.

The big question is when and how did it start? CDC Statistics on obesity trends in adults show a fairly constant percentage of overweight adults from 1960 to 1980, holding between 24.4% and 25.4% for those 20 years.

Then something happened. From 1988 to 1994 the percentage rose to 34.8% and by 1997 was over 50 %.

By 2007-2008, the age-adjusted prevalence of obesity was 33.8% among men, and 35.5% among women.

From the Journal of the American Medical Association, we find statistics showing that the corresponding prevalence estimates for overweight and obesity combined (BMI of 25 to 30) were 68.0%. Men were 72.3%, and women were 64.1 %.

So we can say with some confidence that the real rise in overweight and obesity in the U.S. began in the early 1980's and accelerated after 1994 and continues today. 

Dr. Steve Nugent has researched the correlation in great detail between the rise in obesity and the rise in popularity of the low fat or no-fat diets.  These diets were driven by the widespread, but erroneous belief, that eating fat makes you fat.

Coincidentally the rise in fat free foods is in lockstep with the rise in highly processed food and fast food.  Drilling down a little deeper, one might ask what drove the fast food industry and processed fat free or low fat food?  In a word, it was corn!

In the old days of the 1800's, corn could either be turned into pork or corn liquor.  Today through the wonders of chemistry, there are hundreds of things that can be made from corn such as chicken McNuggets or Big Macs, pharmaceuticals and industrial products. 

But what the food and corn industry has chosen to do with much of the corn harvest is to nurture our desire for sweet stuff and then provide it. 

One bushel of corn can be turned into thirty-three pounds of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and that is what happens to 530 million bushels of corn each year; that translates to 17.5 billion pounds of HFCS. 

1980 was the first year we tasted HFCS and by 1985 Coke and Pepsi had completely switched from sugar to HFCS.

Since 1985 our individual consumption of HFCS has jumped from 45 pounds to 66 pounds and our consumption of all types of sugar in now 158 pounds per person.

We are truly a "Nation of Fat" with the accompanying afflictions of obesity and diabetes...and we owe it all to corn.  So it isn't eating fat that makes us fat; it's eating corn in all its forms of sugar.  So now let's add another line to the cause and effect list.

  • 1973: Government starts subsidizing corn
  • 1975 - 1980's: Chicken, Pig, Beef and Dairy CAFO's become firmly established
  • 1976: McDonald's hits the 20 billion burger mark
  • 1980 - 1985: HFCS replaces sugar
  • 1975 - 80's and '90's: fast food becomes the food of choice
  • Now it's time to bring the chronic issues of obesity and diabetes into the picture.  How does the growth of obesity and diabetes track with our cause and effect scenario? 

    In order to see the trends, the growth of these chronic conditions are shown below.

    Obesity Trends in the U.S.

    The CDC tracks overweight and obesity trends in the U.S. and publishes the data yearly.  The list below shows the obesity trends from 1994 through 2007.

  • 1994: 15-19% obese in the Midwest
  • 1997: 20-24% obese in the Midwest, northeast and parts of the west
  • 2003: 20-24% obese in most of the U.S; 25-29% in parts of the south
  • 2007: 25-29% obese in most states; over 30% in three southern states
  • Diabetes Trends in the U.S.

    There is a strong correlation between being overweight or obese and having diabetes so we would expect to see the rise in diabetes track the obesity trends. 

    In checking in with the CDC one will see that they do track very well.

    Looking at the U.S. figures in five-year increments, we see:

  • 1980......5.6 million
  • 1985......6.2 million
  • 1990......6.6 million
  • 1995......8.0 million
  • 2000.....12.0 million
  • 2005.....16.3 million
  • 2007.....17.4 million
  • In the 13 years from 1994 to 2007, obesity generally doubled across the U.S.  The numbers show that diabetes cases more than doubled from 1995 to 2007 and are rising at an increasing rate. 

    Adding the obesity and diabetes lines to the cause and effect picture looks like:

  • 1973: Government starts subsidizing corn
  • 1976: McDonald's hits the 20 billion burger mark
  • 1975 - 1980's: Chicken, Pig, Beef and Dairy CAFO's become firmly established
  • 1980 - 1985: HFCS replaces sugar
  • 1975 - 80's and '90's: fast food becomes the food of choice
  • 1995-2007: rates of both obesity and diabetes double
  • Thus the evidence seems to say that:
         (1) plentiful, cheap, subsidized corn,
         (2) enabled the advent of the CAFO system 
              which provided economies of scale and cheap meat which
         (3) spurred the rise of the fast food industry with its high 
              fat, high fructose corn syrup, high sodium but low cost menu                  items which
         (4) contributed to the inexorable weight gain of the country, which
         (5) resulted in a rise in the incidence of new diagnoses of diabetes.

    It is reasonable to assume that cardiovascular disease would follow the same track.

    Next we move to the impacts on community health resulting from factory farms.


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