40% Of American Women Are Obese Today. Here's Why

In a country filled with opportunity, wealth, and endless entertainment, it’s easy to blame America’s obesity epidemic on laziness. But if you look closer, laziness is hardly a factor.

By Kathryn Coursey4 min read
Shutterstock/Wilawan Chueanit

Obesity in America has been on the rise in the 20th and 21st centuries at an alarming rate. Modern conveniences such as the washing machine and the electric stove made it possible for women to enter the workforce, altering the American lifestyle forever — a lifestyle of ease and luxury, right? Not quite. Now society expected women to “do it all”: marry young, have several kids, hold a job, and still do all the household chores solo. Does the modern woman sound lazy to you?

The Struggle for Mid-Century Women

When convenience products began lining the shelves in grocery stores all across the U.S., mothers gleefully stocked their pantries full of shelf-stable foods like Twinkies, canned soup, and frozen dinners. Convenience foods made meal planning so much easier. But at what cost? 

Convenience foods made meal planning so much easier. But at what cost?

It’s no surprise that each generation saw obesity numbers increase as more convenience foods continued to replace raw, bulk foods. But it wasn’t just the convenience factor that drove the market; it was a lack of knowledge on nutrition by the general public, and many convenience foods were disproportionately made up of oil, sugar, and white flour. Historically, Americans didn’t need to know much about nutrition because they ate generally healthy, protein-rich foods off their land and from their farms.

We Eat What Our Parents Ate

It’s fair to say that we eat what our parents ate, right? And they ate what their parents ate, and so on and so forth. But with each generation came changes in DNA, greatly increasing the risk of obesity for future generations. (Our genes were adapting to all of the extra caloric energy that our bodies were getting and essentially created more fat cells to cope.) Now children were gaining more weight at younger ages than ever. Still more egregious, the rise in obesity was disproportionately affecting the lower class and the poor, and so continues today. 

In post-modern times when women are still expected to somehow “do it all” — especially as single mothers — convenience foods often save the day. They’re cheap, covered by SNAP, quick and easy to prepare, and taste delicious.

Just the thought of changing our eating habits causes us to shudder. 

Women are doing the best they can to provide for their families and not lose their minds on a daily basis, and convenience foods are always there for them. And in a culture where women are often abandoned by their boyfriends and husbands, the one constant in their lives is a bag of Oreos, barbeque chips, pizza, and Moose Tracks. Always there, never changing, always delighting, always satisfying, for less than five dollars. 

Mental Health Matters

With the importance of mental health awakening in the public consciousness, we’re more equipped to examine and discover why we do what we do and find healthy, productive alternatives for achieving contentment. But the one thing that American culture ignores is the distinct connection between mental health and obesity. Many women dub themselves “emotional eaters,” but never uncover what may be behind their behavior.

The Trauma Factor

As I said earlier, we eat what our parents ate, but we also eat in the same patterns that our parents did. We even mimic their emotional responses to stress, and in adulthood, we do what they often did to cope — eat. The secret candy stash, the leftover birthday cake, the whole bag of chips. So what do you do when you find yourself under stress or in the throes of negative emotion? You eat, and this is the result of trauma.

Sadly, society doesn’t want to hear that their unhealthy eating habits are a result of childhood trauma. Mother was doing the best she could, right? Of course, she was! But that doesn’t subtract from the fact that she unintentionally left you with trauma surrounding food. She was likely unaware that she was carrying her own trauma in the same way as her mother and was simply doing for you what was modeled for her. In other words, she was doing the best she could with what she had, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that you now have some work to do. And that’s the kicker.

Sadly, society doesn’t want to hear that their unhealthy eating habits are a result of childhood trauma.

Eating habits are such an emotionally charged subject because we know that we’re doing something wrong every time our stomach aches, and deep down we feel ashamed of ourselves for gaining too much fat. But we don’t know how to stop, and even if we did, would we want to sacrifice the pleasure of eating unrestrainedly? Just the thought of changing our eating habits causes us to shudder. 

Doctors Avoid Telling the Truth to Their Obese Patients 

Women feel especially self-conscious about their weight when visiting the doctor. Because of this, medical doctors (who have their own struggles with food) are reticent to explain to their obese patients that they need to lose weight for fear of hitting a nerve. And the fact is that most medical doctors lack formal education in weight-loss counseling and nutrition themselves! 

Aside from this, an obese patient’s bloodwork may come back unproblematic if the patient is under 30 years old, which doesn’t give the doctor much of a leg to stand on when suggesting that the patient lose weight for the sake of their health. So most obese patients walk out of the doctor’s office thinking that because their bloodwork was good and they show no signs of pre-diabetes, then they’re perfectly healthy when that’s far from the truth (Hello, Fat Acceptance/Health at Every Size Movement). 

It takes quality education to know what to do, but it takes personal ownership to decide to do it.

What most doctors are not equipped to tell their obese patients is that when they start aging past 30, the patient’s quality of life starts to significantly decrease. The risk of diseases and injuries dramatically increases and life becomes exponentially more difficult and painful. The naturally abundant energy of youth is gone, leaving women feeling lethargic, fatigued, and powerless.

Change Is in Your Control

While there’s a myriad of practical and psychological factors as to why so many women are obese today — the least of which is laziness — the solution comes down to education and personal ownership. Thanks to the internet, women all over America are able to learn about nutrition for themselves, to see past the false promises of fad diets, and find the perfect nutrition plan for themselves. Youtube now offers a wide variety of workout videos of every style. Instagram and Pinterest have connected tons of women to registered dieticians, nutritionists, and personal trainers to fit anyone’s budget and lifestyle. 

Closing Thoughts

It takes quality education to know what to do, but it takes personal ownership to decide to do it. Question your habits, start to heal your trauma, educate yourself, and take that first step toward a healthy life. Find an exercise activity that you enjoy, shop for healthy foods you love, eat sweets in moderation, and get the sleep you deserve. You have what it takes; you just have to make up your mind to make up your mind to do the work. You got this.