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Dramatic Weight Gains Caused by Modern American Diet (MAD)

By Christopher Clark
June 17, 2015
Dramatic Weight Gains Caused by Modern American Diet (MAD) image

According to the CDC, the average US woman now weighs 166.2 lbs and the average US man weighs 195.5 lbs.1 As reported in the Washington Times, this means the average woman today weighs as much as the average man did during the early 1960s.2 Overall, women are 18.5% heavier than they were in the early 1960s and men are 17.6% heavier.

Part of these weight gains can be attributed to height; both the average man and woman are approximately one inch taller today compared to the early 1960s. The majority of the weight gains, however, come from increased body fat, a direct result of the Modern American Diet, which could appropriately be termed MAD.

Make no mistake, weight gain and its associated diseases are worldwide problems, but in many ways, this problem is uniquely American. A 2012 study, for example, determined that the average American is roughly 27, 28, 33, and 40 lbs heavier than the average Canadian, Italian, French, and Japanese, respectively.3

So what could be making Americans heavier, and presumably less healthy, than our friends around the world? One idea is that the US, being a relatively young nation, has fewer established food traditions, especially compared to places like Italy, France, and Japan. Perhaps children in those countries are exposed to a wider variety of traditional foods, especially vegetables.

A 2009 review from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study found less than 1% of US adolescents consume the recommended 400 grams of daily fruits and vegetables (5 servings of 80 grams) and only 2.2% of adult men and 3.5% of adult women meet this target.4 The same study found, not surprisingly, the 8 lowest vegetable-consuming states (per capita) are among the 10 highest-ranking states for obesity.

But what about Canada? Another young nation, Canada doesn’t have the old-world food traditions of Europe, yet the average Canadian is significantly less heavy than the average American. Since the 1960s, Americans are eating more of just about everything (except vegetables) and exercising less. Could the unique regulatory environment within the US be contributing to our ever-increasing appetites?

Within the US, food corporations spend some $1.79 billion marketing their products to children ages 2 to 17.5 Their third-largest spending category, behind television advertising and incentives to purchase (toys with fast-food meals, music downloads, etc.) is in-school marketing.6 During the 2010 to 2011 school year, 10% of US elementary schools and 30% of US high schools served branded fast food products.7

More than likely, the madness of the Modern American Diet has multiple drivers, including aggressive food marketing, a lax regulatory environment, and the absence of firmly entrenched food traditions. Nevertheless, all is not lost. The US is the epicenter of the global Paleo movement. Google’s top-trending diet in 2014 and 2015, the Paleo Diet, has helped millions of people globally achieve improved health. As Americans become more informed about the importance and effectiveness of traditional, ancestral diets, we see the widespread embrace of Paleo-inspired diets as an important solution toward reversing America’s weight problem.

Christopher James Clark, B.B.A.
Nutritional Grail


[1] Fryar CD, Gu Q, Ogden CL. (October, 2012). Anthropometric Reference Data For Children And Adults: United States, 2007–2010. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics, 11(252). Retrieved from //www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_11/sr11_252.pdf

[2] Ingraham, C. (June 12, 2015). The average American woman now weighs as much as the average 1960s man. Washington Times. Retrieved from //www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/12/look-at-how-much-weight-weve-gained-since-the-1960s/

[3] Walpole, SC, et al. (June 18, 2012). The weight of nations: an estimation of adult human biomass. BMC Public Health, 12(439). Retrieved from //www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/12/439

[4] Kimmon, J, et al. (2009). Fruit and vegetable intake among adolescents and adults in the United States: percentage meeting individualized recommendations. Medscape Journal of Medicine, 11(1). Retrieved from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19295947/

[5] Federal Trade Commission. (2012). A review of food marketing to children and adolescents, follow-up report. Washington, D.C. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved from https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports/review-food-marketing-children-and-adolescents-follow-report/121221foodmarketingreport.pdf

[6] Ibid.

[7] Terry-McElrath YM, et al. (2014). Commercialism in US elementary and secondary school nutrition environments: trends from 2007 to 2012. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(3). Retrieved from //archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1812294

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