Obesity continues to climb

Last week the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported that more than 12 states now have adult obesity rates greater than 30 percent, and that one in three children are either overweight or obese. However, 16 years ago, no state in the United States had an adult obesity rate greater than 20 percent. So in less than a generation, adult obesity has skyrocketed. Yet at the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of overweight people has remained fairly constant since 1960, while the percentage of obese individuals has increased significantly since 1980. What this suggests is that there is a genetic component that can be activated in those individuals predisposed to gain weight. Once activated, accumulation of excess fat accelerates.

I feel the driving force between this activation of genetic factors is the increasing inflammatory nature of the American diet. We know that it is elevated insulin levels that make us fat and keep us fat. But what really causes insulin to become elevated in the first place? The simple explanation is that it comes from eating excess carbohydrates. However, that is too simplistic an explanation since one-third of adult Americans who are thin are also eating excess carbohydrates.

A more comprehensive answer is it’s insulin resistance that causes elevated insulin levels. Insulin resistance is a consequence of disturbances in the body’s insulin-signaling pathways in the cell caused by cellular inflammation. My most recent book, “Toxic Fat,” goes into great detail on this subject (1). But simply stated, the more cellular inflammation you have in your cells, the greater the likelihood of insulin resistance. And if you are genetically prone to gain weight, increasing insulin resistance will really pack on the extra fat. More insidious is that insulin resistance also creates a “fat trap” through which incoming dietary calories are trapped in your fat cells and can’t be released to provide the necessary energy the body needs. This means you are constantly hungry.

If you are surrounded by cheap processed foods (rich in omega-6 fatty acids and refined carbohydrates), then you are going to quench that hunger with those foods that increase cellular inflammation to even greater levels. The end result is an increasing rise of obesity.

But the fastest growing segment of the overweight and obese population is not adults, but children under the age of 5, with 20 percent now either overweight or obese before entering kindergarten (2). You can’t blame school lunches for this because they are not in school yet. What you can blame is epigenetics (3). This is how the metabolic future of the child can be greatly determined in the womb by the inflammatory nature of the mother’s diet. When these children are born, their altered genetics make them sitting targets for a world full of inflammatory food. Unless you change the foundation of the food supply to become more anti-inflammatory (less omega-6 fatty acids and a lower glycemic load), then the future for these children is incredibly bleak.


  1. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN (2008)
  2. Kim J, Peterson KE, Scanlon KS, Fitzmaurice GM, Must A, Oken E, Rifas-Shiman SL, Rich-Edwards JW, and Gillman MW. “Trends in overweight from 1980 through 2001 among preschool-aged children enrolled in a health maintenance organization. Obesity 14: 1107-1112 (2006)
  3. Lustig RH editor. “Obesity Before Birth.” Springer. New York (2011)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

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This entry was posted in Zone Diet and tagged , , , , , by Dr. Barry Sears. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 30 years to the study of lipids. He has published more than 30 scientific articles and holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 13 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". These books have sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.

47 thoughts on “Obesity continues to climb

    • Not all Carbohydrates cause hyperinsulinemia….the problem is excessive intake of grains. Grains are cheap and easily available. They are glucose-rich and excessive intake will cause insulin to be elevated in the blood. Too many people eat grain foods all day and night.

      • It is not always true that just grains will cause insulin to rise. I am a diabetic who has been doing the Zone diet now for 3 months. In the beginning, I lost weight and my blood sugar levels dropped significantly enough that I didn’t have to take insulin shots after every meal. Suddenly & without a change in my diet, my blood sugar levels spiked back up and I had to restart the insulin shots and my kidney function fell sharply. I am still on the Zone and with my shots now, I’m able to have normal blood sugar levels and the shots I take are much less than they used to be. I haven’t been eating grains at all, so that just can’t be the right answer always!

        • One of the problems of weight loss is that it releases stored arachidonic acid from the fat cells. This is why you should always take some additional EPA and DHA to dampen the impact of the release of the stored arachidonic acid. This is a relatively short term effect, this is why the level of insulin that you are taking is continuing to be reduced. Add extra fish oil to the diet and I predict the rate of decrease will continue at a faster rate.

      • Actually it is not the grains the raise insulin levels, but the insulin resistance in the cells that keep insulin levels continuously elevated creating hyperinsulinemia. The best way to induce insulin resistance in any cell is the over-produce arachidonic acid. For that you also need excess omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Combining grains and excess omega-6 is a deadly combination to do exactly that.

        • Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia may both be a result of excess glucose-rich foods in the diet. With excessive glucose consumption comes a dumping of insulin into the bloodstream to carry the glucose to muscle cells thus causing hyperinsulinemia. The insulin resistance may well be caused by cells so full of glucose that the receptor cells for insulin cannot be activated. When people are obese, inactive, and constantly overconsuming glucose-rich foods their bodies will be continually releasing insulin from the pancreas and continually causing the liver to produce triglycerides, VLDLs and LDLs….in other words…these people will never lose weight, and will probably have a heart attack do to clogged arteries. I do hope that more and more people will come to accept your explanations even if they might not understand all that you say.

    • I’ve seen and successfully treated sick, fat and nearly dead people for 30 years with a method similar to Dr. Sears. Yes, Wayne, it works. When you begin to understand that proteins and monounsaturated fats are important in a healthy diet and can actually help control the amount of carbohydrate foods you eat, you will be on your way to better health and weight loss.

  1. Many people, including pregnant women, are living off of a fast food/junk food diet. Unhealthy prepackaged foods have taken the place of home cooked meals and the intake of high fructose laden drinks is outrageous. The sad thing is they feed the kids the same way. Kids are inundated with fruit drinks, unhealthy snacks, lunchables and fast food meals in quantities that are way more than a small child should eat. Its no wonder our kids today are getting diabetes and metabolic disorders before they are 10.

    • True Cheryl…but what’s really sad is that most of these people don’t really know what they’re doing. People need to be educated about nutrition. So many people do not even know the basics …. like fruit is a carbohydrate food and olive oil is a good fat. The USDA gave us the ridiculous food pyramid (for 20 years)which encouraged eating grains (6 to 11 servings) and now they’re promoting a silly plate. They lump all milk products together which is wrong. Milk and regular yogurt are carbohydrate foods, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt are protein foods, and hard cheeses are fats.

    • One of the more insidious problems with pregnant women not having the time to make balanced meals is the fetal programming that is being done to the unborn child that will affect their future metabolism after birth. This is called epigenetics and helps explains why the segment of population that has the most rapid growth of obesity are children ages 0-5 years.

      • Unfortunately, many new mothers must return to work shortly after giving birth. This means that the child is in day care until it is time for going to school. If a day care center has only a couple of people trying to care for a number of children, many times food is given at inappropriate times to calm the children and keep them quiet. A cookie may be given in the car on the ride home and another when Mom is trying to get supper ready. Food becomes a second babysitter ….difficult concept to discourage.

  2. Lois, I think you hit the nail on the head, so to speak. Lois wrote: “but what’s really sad is that most of these people don’t really know what they’re doing.” And, most Drs. are NOT helping. I know morbidly obese people, with Type II diabetes whose Drs. have told them, to take their Metformin and just keep doing what their doing. WHAT??? Yes, their told just don’t eat quite to many potatoes, and make them 1/3 of your plate. OK so take butter and cheese laden potatoes and fill a 1/3 of your plate. That’s how these people interpret that. I don’t understand why a Dr. would tell a Type II morbidly obese diabetic to keep doing what your doing, just divide your dinner plate into thirds. 1/3 meat, 1/3 starch, 1/3 vegetable.

    • I have found that doctors have very little training in nutrition. They are trained to use prescription drugs to treat various conditions.

      • I agree totally, as an ex Pharma rep, I know how little the medical profession knows about nutrition. It is too bad, as they advise so many people wrongly due to their lack of knowledge.



  3. Hi Dr. Sears,

    I have followed the zone diet for 5 months now. Recently I have been diagnosed with dysinsulinism (with reactive hypoglycemia). My doctor prescribed metformin and said the zone diet was ok for me. However she told me to stop taking the suplements (omega rx and polyphenols).
    Metformin is necessary for me to avoid getting diabetes, to lose weight and improve my hypoglycemia symptoms. Is there any problem with taking both metformin and the suplements?

    • Hi Diana….It is strange that your doctor would prescribe metformin when you presented with hypoglycemia. Usually, if you eat a piece of fruit between meals your glucose level will be stable. Did you ask your doctor what the metformin would do for you? ….Lois

      • Hi Lois, the doctor prescribed metformin because my hypoglycemia is caused by a disfunction of my pancreas (dysinsulinism). Metformin will help my pancreas work better as it releases too much insulin and then insulin decreases very rapidly. But i do not know if omega 3 and polyphenols are not good if i’m on metformin, any ideas?

        • Hi Diana….metformin works in the liver to slow down the release of stored glucose to prevent low blood sugar. Omega 3 fish oils and polyphenols should not cause an adverse effect with the metformin….if you have a source of fat with each meal the glucose from the food you eat will take longer to be absorbed into your blood…that will slow down the release of insulin from your pancreas…the pancreas reacts to the amount of glucose in the blood…..Lois

    • Both metformin and polyphenols activated AMP kinase which acts as a master energy sensor so they should be synergistic. The omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation. I suggest a better recommendation would be make non-starchy vegetables your primary source of carbohydrates to further reduce the glycemic load of the diet.

      • Non-starchy vegetables due contain glucose even though it is far less than starchy vegetables. The fiber would be beneficial but would still not slow the breakdown of amylose releasing the glucose. If a monousaturated fat were to be added to the nonstarchy vegetable the fat would slow down the release of glucose. However, if a fruit snack were eaten it would release mostly fructose which would not activate the pancreas to release insulin. Fruit also is a primary source of much needed potassium and fiber.

  4. Dr. Sears only ever sees people eating only two types of food, either junk highly inflammtory cheap processed food or his Zone Diet. Dr. Sears never ever mentions the people who eat whatever they want to eat in moderation, whether it be grains or legumes or hamburger or anything else on the food pyramid in moderation. To write a discriminatory blog and omit all pertinent information is cetainly irresponsible for a world lecturer with a PhD.

    • Hi Jockobono…the subjects of obesity and high insulin levels can take a whole book to explain. It’s beneficial for all of us to discuss the issues involved with obesity and high insulin levels. Basically, excess energy-rich foods (starchy vegetables, grains, legumes, and saturated fats) cause weight gain unless hours of exercise are included daily. Excess glucose-rich foods cause high insulin levels. It’s interesting. Dr. Sears is trying to help people understand the limits associated with eating these foods. ..Lois

  5. It’s inflammation that drives all disease – I couldn’t agree more about the role of epigenetics, but it is so complex. There is no integrity when it comes to public health.

  6. Lois I liked your comments about yogurt, milk and hard cheese. I think if more people thought of things that way, there would be less obesity. PLease keep you comments coming.

    Thanks Me

    • Hi Marilyn….here’s another one…three types of fats (excluding trans fat) polyunsaturated fatty acid, monounsaturated fatty acid, and saturated fatty acid …..also known as PUFA, MUFA, and SFA. We should be consuming more MUFA and less PUFA and SFA. Monounsaturated fats are structural fats (maintain the integrity of cells and tissue), polyunsaturated fats help break things down (like soap), and saturated fats are a secondary energy source (like a battery). You have to go out of your way to get the monounsaturated fats, but look for them…olive oil, canola oil, avocado, peanut oil, cashews, pistachios are some sources of MUFA. If people are taught the function of foods they wouldn’t necessarily eat like scavengers just because the food is there….they could be more discriminating. Of course, not everyone will be choosy. I think nutrition should be a part of every school’s curriculum.


  7. I’m a letter carrier. During the summer months when it gets to over 100 degrees. I drink almost a gallon of water due to sweating profusley. What else can I drink to keep me in the zone? By late afternoon my throat starts to feel raw from all the water. Thanks

  8. Hi Mary Ann….drinking just plain water when you’re delivering letters and perspiring in the intense heat can be dangerous….you should be drinking a beverage that contains sodium and potassium…these are called electrolytes…hotter days are coming….Lois

  9. Dr Sears ,
    Have you heard anything about Coconut oil improving HDL values.?? Palmitoleic Oil is a monounsaturated oil that is converted to several members of the W7 oil family. Are these useful and therapeutic ?? I use fish oil to great effect to improve triglyceridemia a independent risk factor for heart disease.

    • All fats will increase HDL levels. The longer chain fatty acids derived from palmitoleic acid will not be pro-inflammatory, but neither will they be anti-inflammatory. Sometimes being neuter is OK.

      • Dr. Sears,

        How do all fats increase HDL levels? When carbohydrate intake is limited and as a result triglyceride levels lessen, the LDLs will also be reduced, and the HDLs will increase.

  10. Lois Redican said, “I think nutrition should be a part of every school’s curriculum.”

    How to you suppose any school could possibly teach the proper nutrition?
    Of the thousands of diets and guidelines, which one of the thousands
    would any school choose to teach? I would guess most schools would choose
    the Governments Food Pyramid, which is already being taught and has been for decades.
    Furthermore, it’s none of, particularly, my business what others eat.
    Most schools already meddle into too many facets of children’s lives which they have no business doing. But it’s the liberal mindset of teachers trying to influence their
    own personal opinions on the young minds of children. Look at all the tree huggers
    today! Teachers should mind their own business and stick to the 3 r’s.

    • Hi Jockobono

      The purpose of education is to expose students to information that will allow them to make informed and intelligent decisions and choices. The USDA has replaced the Food Pyramid with a “Plate” which is probably good for kindergarten and also cost the government 2 million dollars. You can find it on the USDA’s website. I believe the problem is that the government tries to satisfy the wants of businesses as well as the needs of its citizens and the public gets the short end. The nutrition guidelines come from the Department of Agriculture not the Surgeon General or the CDC….very strange. I’m sure Dr. Sears would have plenty to say about his trip to Washington to discuss diets. I think that scientists like Dr. Sears who have studied the adverse effects of malnutrition should be able to have more influence in the governments food guidelines. But then, if we have too many healthy people pharmaceutical companies would be looking for a bail-out from the government.

  11. Most schools are loaded with liberal minded ‘union’ teachers with liberal ideas that brainwash the young, impressionable minds with their own beliefs that have no business being taught in schools, like nutrition and environmentalism (tree hugging and back to nature and green) and liberalism politics and gay rights etc., meanwhile half the graduates can’t read or write.

    • Hi Jockobono

      I can understand your frustration with schools….it’s especially difficult at the college level, however that should not diminish our efforts to teach the basic facts of nutrition. Healthy nutrition can prevent so many health issues. However, if someone has already had a heart attack due to coronary artery disease and knows that eating chicken Parmesan with zitis and garlic bread for supper will cause further artery clogging but decides to eat it anyway that person at least knows what he’s doing even though someone else might consider that person to be reckless or stubborn or just plain stupid. We may not always make the best decisions for ourselves but if we can say “I knew it and I did it anyway” we will at least know that it was clearly our decision to be self destructive.

  12. Lois,
    You miss my point completely.
    What business is it of yours what other people eat?
    I’ll answer for you. It’s none of your business unless it affects you.
    How would you like your neighbor or anybody insisting you stop doing whatever you do?
    These liberal wackos in the world trying to take away personal freedoms and liberties is a crime.

    • Hi Jockobono
      It is not my intent to take anything away from anyone. I believe it is important for people to be warned about behavior that may be injurious to them. If, after being given an alternative, more constructive and beneficial series of dietary guidelines than simply scavenging for food, one were to choose to ignore those guidelines, then that person will suffer the consequences.

      • As far as dietary guidelines is concerned, I say again, which guidelines do you follow out of all the thousands of them? Many guidelines themselves may be injurious to people so this whole notion is absurd.

        • Hi Jockobono
          I hope you have read Dr. Sears book “Enter the Zone”. Although it became available 16 years ago, the information about nutrient control in a healthy diet is valid today. The fad diets that you read about in magazines and newspapers are nutrient deficient and not for long term consumption…they are fleeting and meant to sell more papers and magazines. Be an educated consumer and you do not have to waste your time, money, and health on fad diets. Unfortunately, the government does not adhere to the scientific method Dr. Sears utilizes. You can count on the information Dr. Sears dispenses.

  13. After consideration, I will concede that it would lower the number of obese people considerably
    if you would take away all the junk food from those on welfare and food stamps and from all the illegal aliens because these people who bleed the system but don’t work or pay taxes don’t deserve all the freedoms and liberties that responsible people should enjoy.

    • Hi Jockobono
      Try to look at this issue of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes as if it effected you personally. If I were to tell you all you have to do is change a few items that you’re eating and you would no longer have those conditions, wouldn’t you want to know? Regardless of your political persuasion you have a right to know, and everyone in the world has a right to know.

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