Packaged Foods and Obesity

The problem of obesity is now called a worldwide epidemic. Obesity has been correlated with a host of health problems, including type II diabetes and heart disease (Verdich, Clèment, & Sorensen, 2005). Yet, there seems to be a great deal of debate over what exactly is causing the steady increase of waistlines in developed as well as developing countries. Research has not shown conclusively that any one factor is responsible for the growing obesity problem, although most would agree that an over-consumption of calories and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle are to blame (Popkin, 2005).

Other factors that have been cited are the rise in single parent families and double income families that have less time to prepare meals from fresh ingredients, the rise of the use of technology in most homes which result in hours spent in front of the computer or video games, food company’s marketing techniques and marketing to young children, human beings’ natural tendency to overeat to protect the body in times of famine (Popkin, 2005), emotional issues (Herman, Polovy, & Leone, 2005), medications, DNA (Verdich, Clèment, & Sorensen, 2005), and the elimination of physical education programs in schools (Popkin, 2005).

However, exactly what behaviors people engage in that culminates in weight gain is still up for debate. Some experts believe that the packaged food industry could be partly to blame for the rise in obesity (Popkin, 2005). Packaged foods are defined as foods that have been, to some extent, altered, cooked, and/or processed from its natural state (Popkin, 2005). There are several different reasons why packaged foods could contribute to obesity:

Packaged Foods and Obesity

Whybrow, Mazlan, and Stubbs (2005) found that packaged foods tend to be high in calories. Manufacturers of packaged foods strive to make their product palatable to maximize their sales. Most commonly, they achieve this through the use of fats and sugars, mainly oil derived from soy and sugars derived from corn. Not only are these products devoid of nutrients, but they also add empty calories. If one eats products throughout the day containing these ingredients, the consumption of extra fats and sugars and thus many extra empty calories could go unchecked. For example, high fructose corn syrup is often cited as a reason for the overconsumption of empty calories.

Packaged foods tend to have chemical preservatives. This might not seem to be connected to obesity at first. According to Balch and Balch (1998), it is thought that people could gain weight because of allergies to preservatives. Moreover, preservatives are thought to culminate in the body and interfere with the body’s natural detoxification process, overtaxing the body’s elimination system.

Balch and Balch (1998) also stated that packaged foods tend to contain common allergens. Allergens are thought to contribute to weight gain and prevent weight loss. Most packaged foods contain soy, corn, wheat, and peanut products.

According to Van Trijp, Brug, and van der Mas (2006), packaged foods could contain unrealistic serving portions. Portion sizes have increased over the past few decades. Some consumer groups have complained that consumers are encouraged to consume more calories than they need because of portion sizes that are larger than they were even a few years ago.

Balch and Balch (1998) explained some nutrition experts believe that packaged foods contain too many antivitamins that can contribute to weight gain. Basically, fresh foods contain vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients, such as protein and carbohydrates, components the body needs. Packaged, processed foods are thought to have antivitamins, ingredients that the body does not need for its sustenance, and are therefore stored as fat, or overtax the body’s digestive and elimination system because the body has to work harder to eliminate those ingredients. According to Balch and Balch, antivitamins actually pull nutrients out of the body.
Dietary Recommendations for Weight Loss

To lose weight, doctors recommend following a diet that is rich in plant matter, basically fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds (Kushi, 2010).

Meats and dairy should be carefully monitored for portion size. The recommended size for meat portions is a piece that is no bigger than one’s fist (Kushi, 2010).

Fats should also be carefully monitored for portion size. Animal fats should be avoided. Use oils that are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, such as olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, as found in nuts and seeds (Balch & Balch, 1998).


Balch, P. A. & Balch, J. F. (1998). Prescription for dietary wellness. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group.

Herman, C. P , Polovy, J., & Leone T. (2005). The psychology of overeating. Pp. 115-136.

Kushi, L. H. (2010). Kaiser Permanente: Division of Research. Retrieved February 15, 2010 from

Popkin, B. M. (2005). Global trends in obesity. In Food, diet, and obesity (D. Mela, ed.), pp. 1-13. Abington Hall, Cambridge, Canada: Woodhead Publishing, Ltd.

Verdich, Clèment, & Sorensen, (2005). Nutrient-gene interactions contributing to the development of obesity. In Food, diet, and obesity (D. Mela, ed.), pp. 17-57. Abington Hall, Cambridge, Canada: Woodhead Publishing, Ltd.

Whybrow, S., Mazlan, N., & Stubbs, R. J. (2005).Energy density and weight control. In Food, diet, and obesity (D. Mela, ed.), pp. 179-203. Abington Hall, Cambridge, Canada: Woodhead Publishing, Ltd.

Kirsten O’Connor

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