For many people, it often seems like despite healthy eating, weight creeps on slowly, year after year, and decade upon decade. Looking at long term weight gain, and the remarkably high rates of overweight and obesity in our society compared to previous decades, it is interesting to contemplate just how much the average person would have to eat in order to cause this gradual increase in weight.

It turns out that we can put this answer into the real terms of daily life: in fact, physiologists and physicists have put this into real terms for us! A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association discussed this topic, looking at the average woman age 50-59 in USA. Using comparison data from 28 years previous, these women had an average weight gain of 35lb over those 28 years. According to calculations, these women would have had to eat an extra 370 calories per day, every day, for 28 years, (or burn 370 calories less in exercise per day), in order to gain those 35lb. Examples of 370 calories:

  • a Grande Cafe Mocha (Starbucks)
  • just under 3 tbsp of oil
  • just under 1/2 cup of nuts
  • one hour of brisk walking

For children, the caloric bank account is even larger: for a normal-weight 6 year old to become obese by age 16, that child must consume 700-1000 calories per day in excess of what he or she needs. Examples:

  • two King Sized Snickers bars
  • three small sized (49g) bags of Nacho Cheese Doritos

These calculations demonstrate that a significant amount of excess calories need to be taken in over the long term, or a significant decrease in activity level needs to occur (or both!), in order to gain even just over one pound per year over the long term, as in the average female described above. Unfortunately, there are many hidden calories in our diets – if you are struggling with weight, have a good look at your diet to see if you can uncover any previously unknown extras that may be sneaking in (sauces and oils are a big one, and food that is not prepared at home has a big risk of being laden with extra calories – ask if nutritional information is available!).

Also, have a good look at what your activity levels are like now, compared to what they were 5, 10, or 20 years ago. Do you take your car where you used to walk? Do you take the elevator in a situation where you used to take the stairs? Have a good look at your lifestyle to see where you can revert back to some healthier habits of your youth – and take a step closer to preventing the weight gain that may otherwise await!

Dr. Sue © 2009