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Why we overeat: It’s not genetics, ‘we’re living in a carnival’

Many factors lead to overeating, including our own compulsive behavior and obsession with food. (Getty Images/Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON – It’s a question that impacts our physical health, our mental health and health systems throughout the world: What causes us to overeat?

“What’s happening in this country is a matter of grave concern,” says Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.

“About two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. No matter what, it’s not acceptable to be where we are.”

Willett was one of four leading health experts who recently spoke at Harvard School of Public Health’s forum, “Why We Overeat: The Toxic Food Environment and Obesity.”

But the cause for overweight and obesity in the U.S. cannot be limited to one factor. Experts say food engineering, food marketing, the constant availability of food and condition-driven behaviors are the drivers behind overeating and obesity.

It’s not genetics

Willet explains that our nation’s state of overeating, overweight and obesity “cannot be explained by genes.”

That is because obesity rates 50 to 60 years ago were only about one-third of what they are today. Also, other affluent countries, such as Japan and Sweden, don’t come close to obesity rates seen in the U.S.

“In some ways, that’s an optimistic solution because it means potentially we could change our environment and go back to the obesity rates that are similar to those of Japan and Sweden.”

Do we overeat because of our food’s ingredients?

According to Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, diet is the number one driver behind our country’s obesity epidemic.

Additionally, the explosion of processed foods since the


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