December 14

If you don't think obesity is on the rise, read this!


Gary Taubes sent me this article from the Los Angeles Times on the increase in size in high school football players today. I was absolutely stunned to learn that

When the football team from Santa Ana Mater Dei High lined up four weeks ago against Long Beach Poly in a playoff game, its offensive line averaged 282 pounds — 24 pounds more per man than the five linemen who started for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated team in NFL history.
In the Los Angeles City Section championship game Friday, for example, only one starting offensive lineman, from Birmingham High, weighed less than 258 pounds. The San Pedro line [pictured above] averaged 6-1 and 278 pounds.

This is a high school football team?
When I played high school football I was listed on the program as being 6’1″ and weighing 165 pounds, and that was a lie. I was 6’1″ tall, but weighed maybe 156. One day as we were getting ready to go out to the practice field the coach announced that all the members of the team needed to go get weighed and measured so that our heights and weights could be put on the program. I pretended I didn’t hear and went ahead and got all my shoulder pads and other equipment on and started to walk out the door. Since I had to walk right by the area where everyone was getting weighed, I figured I would be spotted and called back. My strategy worked perfectly. The coach said, “Eades, why are you suited up? You need to get weighed for the program.” “Oh, I didn’t know,” said I. “Well, get up here and get weighed anyway.” I did, and, Bingo, I’m on the program as 165 (they rounded up a little), which did wonders for my fragile ego. Why every male in high school wants to be bigger, I’ll never know. But I certainly wanted to at that time.
When I played, the biggest guy on our team weighed 215 pounds, and we thought he was a monster. And I didn’t play on a rinky dink team. Our team came within one game of winning the California state championship when I was a senior. Now the average line of a high school team weighs 282 pounds.
Why? How? The article has contradictory information. First it says

To bulk up, many high school athletes rely on high-protein, high-carbohydrate diets…

Then follows up later on with

Although steroid use is often associated with rapid weight gain and muscle development, particularly in teenagers playing sports or trying to fit in socially at the gym, experts say it’s not usually a factor in contributing to obesity.
High-fat diets and lack of exercise are the most often-cited culprits. And even though high school athletes avoid the latter problem through training, their busy schedules routinely include plenty of stops at fast-food establishments.

“Plenty of stops at fast food restaurants.” I suspect that the fast food restaurants are a major driving force. If you remember the accounting of what he ate over his month’s force feeding at McDonald’s, Morgan Spurlock in the movie Super Size Me listed 12 pounds of fat and 30 pounds of sugar, i.e. high-fructose corn syrup. By my calculatons 30 pounds of HFCS per day calculates out to one pound per day. And I suspect that a high school student weighing in at over 250 pounds could eat a helluva lot more than Morgan Spurlock.
You give a grown adult a pound of HFCS per day and he’ll get fat. You give a growing kid that amount and he’ll get both big and fat. I suspect that the huge quantities of fast food these kids consume over their lifetimes and especially as they reach adolescence is the culprit.
When I was in high school I lived in southern California, just like these kids do. I ate fast food, just like these kids do. What’s the difference? As I’ve written before, when I worked in high school I made about $1.25 or so an hour, which was the going rate then. For an hour’s work, my net buck would buy me a couple of small McDonald’s hamburgers, a couple of small (the only size they had then) orders of fries, and one 12 ounce drink. The drink was made with sugar, not HFCS, and if I wanted more than the 12 ounces, I had to buy another. Now, the minimum wage of $5.15 probably nets out to about $4.50. Go to McDonald’s with $4.50 in your pocket, and you can consume an unlimited number of calories. You can get a Big Mac, fries (super sized), and unlimited soft drinks. You can probably get three or four times the number of calories that I got with my net minimum wage.
A lot of things make us fat–trans fats, vegetable fats, HFCS, regular sugar, refined carbohydrates–and all can be had in huge amounts at fast food chains. And these foods are tasty and are designed to carry a lot of calories. Put them in the presence of me, a person concerned about his health and weight, and I avoid them. Put them in the presence of growing boys, who figure themselves invincible and who want to get bigger, and they chow down. And we have high school linemen weighing 300 pounds.
The sad part of this story is that the vast majority of these kids won’t play even college football much less pro. The weight that stood them in good stead for their last year or two of high school will plague them for the rest of their lives. The really sad thing is that most high school students live for the moment and would sell their souls to play on the team, hang the consequences. Unfortunately, in this case, I fear, the consequences will be diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and the rest of the components of the metabolic syndrome.
A sad, sad article.

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  1. There is an old saying in the weightlifting community, and I suppose it applies to other sports as well, – Health ends where competetion begins.
    Hi Kevin–
    It’s not only an old saying (which I had never heard before), but a true statement.  Thanks for passing it along.

  2. I got to a decent weight in high school, and unfortunately it was for no reason, even for sports. Luckily, with low-carb’s help, it’s gotten a lot better!
    On a side note, I just recently purchased an HDTV and am now getting the HD programming. Our local PBS channel (KQED in San Francisco) will only be broadcasting your show on their HD channel, so I’m so excited that I’ll be able to watch again in January!!
    Hi Michael–
    I hope you enjoy the show.

  3. Great post Dr. Eades! My previous job had me traveling weekly and it was obvious that obesity was on the rise…all I had to do was look around me in the security line and see that 70% of the people around me had bellies lapping over their belts. I would then walk past Starbucks and some other cafe on the way to my gate and see people shoveling in their chocolate chocolate-chip muffins (probably low-fat) as fast as their chubby hands could push while downing a sugar- and cream-laden latte between chews.
    I love how every article that mentions obesity comes to the fallback “high fat diet.” I’ve read articles that were worded similar to “if people would stop eating so much sugar and refined carbohydrates, they’d lose weight. We have to stop eating such a high-fat diet.” Excuse me? It’s like they have to throw that incendiary “high fat” in somewhere to get the article published.
    Hi Scott–
    You’re right, they always have to add the  “high-fat” part.  I don’t think it’s to get the article published, although it may be; I think that the idea that “high fat” is bad is just a part of the national psyche put there by the likes of Michael Jacobson, Dean Ornish, Ancel Keys, and others.

  4. MRE
    “My strategy worked perfectly” — that’s the playful schemer that I know and love.
    Your blog’s mix of information and entertainment is absolute brilliance and has me trying to figure out a way to show my appreciation. I’ll let you know when I come up with something.
    Tasteful gifts are always appreciated.  Maybe several dozen Pro V1*s.

  5. I was visiting a high school, to encourage my son academically. What amazes me was the many times that these kids are served food. When I was a kid, I did not have a snack time. During snack time, kids are offered enough food to be considered as a regular meal. About an hour or so later, they are offered lunch. I just could not fathom how often these kids were fed.
    BTW, I live near Mater Dei, high school.
    Hi Mary–
    Yes, it’s pretty pathetic.  Like you, when I went to school we had lunch and that was it.  There weren’t snack times.  In fact, if we were caught eating in class or in the halls, there was a consequence, although I don’t remember what it was.  And there was one fat kid in every class whereas now the majority, it seems, are overweight.

  6. Wow, those are some big guys. Certainly a lot bigger than kids when i was in school. However i dont think that you can soley place blame on HFCS or fast food. Parents need to be making sure their kids have healthy diets and regular exercise habits. Looks like those boys just need to do a little more running on the football field during practice.
    Hi AD–
    A little more running?  Maybe three or four hours per day of running might help a little, but it would also cause pretty horrendous damage to their knees and hips.  No, this kind of overweight doesn’t come and isn’t maintained by lack of exercise (and I’m sure they get plenty), it’s dietary.

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