One in ten of the world’s 7.5 billion inhabitants is obese.
That’s the finding of a comprehensive new study which shows that the prevalence of people who are overweight or obese has been on the rise worldwide for the past 30 years. While obesity rates doubled in 73 of the 195 countries the study analyzed, the US still managed to stand out with the largest percentage increase of any country.
One of the key drivers of the problem is something Ashkan Afshin, an assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the lead author of the study, calls our “food environment.” Globally, more processed, caloric foods are available to more people than at any other point in history, Afshin told the New York Times.
This has local implications as well. One of the biggest challenges that people struggling to lose weight and keep it off face, according to nutritionists and dietitians, is a chronic lack of healthy food options.
“We live in a society where making healthy choices and being at a healthy weight, it’s not defaulted toward that,” says Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian and the cofounder of Dietitians for Professional Integrity. “Unhealthy foods are cheaper and they’re everywhere; if you go to any store, you can buy a candy bar at the checkout but not a piece of fruit.”
This is one of the reasons they say things like restrictive diets and fast weight loss are not sustainable. After all, once you go on a diet, you have to come off it. Instead of focusing on quick solutions, Bellatti says slow progress is the best way to set yourself up for longterm success.
“You’ve got to give yourself two, three, even four years of consistent behavioral changes,” Bellatti says. “That is hard work. You’re building new habits. And that takes time.”
That means instead of aiming to drop three sizes in a few weeks by drinking nothing but lemon juice, you should start incorporating small tweaks into your daily routine, such as eating more leafy vegetables, avoiding refined carbohydrates like white bread, and ensuring you’re getting enough sleep and drinking enough water.
It’s important to keep in mind too that obesity is a complex issue that is influenced by things outside of our control like genetics. But if you’re looking to lose weight via behavioral change, experts recommend focusing on small, sustainable tweaks.
“I’d say nine times out of 10 the people who change slowly and do manageable goals are the people who three years out still have success,” says Bellatti.