Ten take-aways from all the hype surrounding the world’s newest, most widespread and dangerous pandemic.

Since my research article on the overfat pandemic was published earlier this year, it’s been a focus of articles here on my website, podcasts, in my speaking engagements, and also the subject of articles in major media organizations, including The Atlantic.

Overfat is simply defined as excess fat that impairs health. Given the percentages of people affected, this is the biggest global health crisis facing all of humanity. It’s bigger than flu, Zika, AIDS or other health scares that garner bigger headlines. And it’s quietly killing more people daily.

The first step of course is for society to realize there is a problem — that’s what the research paper and subsequent exposure was all about.

The second step is for each of us to assess whether we need to make improvements to our own health — a real health revolution begins with individual action. If you have questions about whether you are overfat, or about how to remedy this, the answers are available elsewhere on this site.

Meanwhile, here are 10 points to remember about the overfat pandemic:

  • Up to 76 percent of the world is overfat, defined as an excess amount of body fat sufficient to impair health. As little as 14 percent of the world’s population has normal body-fat percentage, and those numbers may be shrinking.
  • More than 80 percent of people in the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand and other developed countries are overfat. In the U.S., New Zealand, Greece and Iceland, prevalence of overfat in adult males is over 90 percent, and up to 50 percent in children.
  • People who are not overweight or obese could still be overfat.
  • The overfat pandemic has not spared those who exercise, including competitive athletes.
  • The food industry — referred to as “Big Sugar,” as it has harmed the world as much as Big Tobacco — has deceived the public and governments, by disguising their junk food as healthy when in fact these foods are a primary cause of the overfat pandemic.
  • Babies and children are the fastest growing overfat segment of the population, and feed the pandemic.
  • The overfat condition is preventable and treatable, as are the conditions it causes: hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides, fatigue, and others, along with most chronic diseases (from Alzheimer’s and cancer, to diabetes and heart disease).
  • The “calories-in, calories-out” notion of weight loss is scientifically wrong. Burning calories of body fat is a priority through healthy diet and slower, easier exercise.
  • The remedy — the reversal of the overfat pandemic — can be accomplished through a simple lifestyle change: replace junk food with real food.

When the media issues warnings about the dangers of an infectious disease, most people take reasonable actions to prevent being infected. It’s much more difficult to get people to take action about their waistlines even though the actual risks may be greater.  The first step to better health begins with you.

 

Thanks to coauthors Professor Paul Laursen and Ivan Rivera for contributing to this report.

20 Comments

  • Richard Leiser says:

    People that are fat, know they are fat, it’s not like they have to go to the Doctors to get a test done or anything, they are reminded everytime they get out of bed or just look in the mirror.
    Given 76% people are fat, it suggests that they just don’t care. In fact you are far far out numbered.

    You can lead a horse to water and all that.

    • Richard:

      With all due respect, that’s simply not how it works.

      Our bodies are frankly besieged by multitudes of nutritional, social, environmental, emotional stressors, etc. You’ll find that the greatest rates of overfat are in those very locations where people’s bodies are most under siege: food deserts in developed countries, very poor neighborhoods, etc. Typically, the people that can afford not being fat have enormous surpluses of time, energy, and education (of what to try) that they can spend on their health pursuits.

      The context we’ve built for ourselves is inimical to human health, and the few healthy ones are the ones that have managed to fight their way out of the mess. It’s not fair to ask people to have to fight their way out of the pressures created by a built environment in order to be “merely healthy.” Exposing the problem for what it is—an extraordinarily poor context—is the first step to changing that context into one that promotes health for everyone in it.

  • sizes matter! says:

    Well, the clothing industry didn’t do female consumers any favors by implementing “vanity sizing.” For a long time I was under illusion that I was the same size I had been in high school…because I wore the same size clothing. However, by looking at sewing patterns, which are sized by inches, I saw that I was a full two sizes larger! Also, while living in Canada, I overheard two women conversing in Costco in Ontario province. One explained to the other, “These sizes are from the US, so you need to buy one size smaller.” Ugh.

  • It would be so easy to say that is the reason (via first response) but I would agree with Ivan, its much more complicated. The average person who is not well versed on the topic does not realize that 74% of products in their grocery store is highly processed with loads of added sugar. I would suggest reading, Deep Nutrition, by Catherine Shanahan, MD, as a starting point.

  • Alina says:

    Well, there is more to weight gain than diet and exercise. I had been slim my whole life. Once I got to be around 45 I gained 20 lbs. in 2 months for no apparent reason. Then few lbs. since as well. The interesting thing is that at the time of my weight gain I had been eating healthy already. I read a ton about longevity, diets, health etc. It is my passion. Weston Price, Paleo, raw food, herbs, wild edibles and many things in between. So at the time I ate organic, grass fed homemade meals from scratch, I do not eat processed food or drink sodas. I read all the labels. I hardly ever eat out yet at this point I am about at least 30 lbs. overweight.
    How do you explain this?
    I looked at thyroid, insulin and cortisol already. I think that my next step will be BHRT.
    Before my weight gain whenever I so an overweight person I always thought that they were just eating unhealthy. And yes, for many people eating unhealthy is the problem but many people also eat all the right stuff and yet they are not slim and they cannot lose any weight.
    Thank you.

    • Alina:

      Certainly! Check out my comment in answer to Richard Leister.

      There’s also a variety of other environmental and chemical stressors that can promote weight gain—chronic stress alone changes the body’s hormonal makeup such that weight gain is extraordinarily difficult (if not impossible).

      But I must note that it is not the case is that in the absence of adverse conditions (seen and unseen), it’s impossible for anyone to lose weight (or more specifically, to produce a healthy metabolism that allow the body to settle at a healthy weight).

      In other words, difficulty staying healthy (of which high body fat is a small but important part of) is always due to adverse pressures on the body, some of which are straightforwardly connected to weight (such as nutrition and exercise) and some which are not (such as endocrine disruptors, social stress, toxic chemicals, etc.)

  • John M says:

    I am still struggling with the backend of this statement:
    “The “calories-in, calories-out” notion of weight loss is scientifically wrong. Burning calories of body fat is a priority through healthy diet and slower, easier exercise.”

    Regarding the slower, easier exercise….I like the concept of MAF exercise, and I have tried it and saw improvement in my MAF tests. But I did not see improvement in my belly fat. The only proven means for me to reduce belly fat has been HIIT (high intensity interval training), but Dr. Maffetone does not seem to advocate HIIT. Can you help me reconcile this?

    • Larry W says:

      (Ivan Rivera can correct me if I’m wrong here) I consider “the concept of MAF exercise” to be a tool to do the things you enjoy in ways that ensure good health (I say it that way because I enjoy HIIT). Take some time to (3-6 months, 12 and more, if necessary) with strict MAF training (akin to traditional ‘base building’) until you see continued improvement in your MAF test. Once that happens, (if it doesn’t, check your diet and other stress levels) add back the sport/exercise of your choosing, in this case HIIT. Then, after you’ve started back, keep using your MAF heart rate for all recovery days and MAF test occasionally. If your MAF tests start to decline then look at everything in your life and think about all the stressors affecting it. As an example, maybe with the current stress levels there would be more overall health/fitness benefit more from 2 HIIT workouts per week as opposed to 3.
      I like the currently overused phrase “experiment of one”.
      Enjoy the journey!

  • Alan H. says:

    Interesting how we have an over fat epidemic and people hungry at the same time.

    Feeding America (US non profit organization)

    From the feeding America website…
    PROGRAM AND SUPPORTING SERVICES TOTALS
    2015 – $2,228,733,000
    2014 – $2,090,120,000

    • Travis Pitt says:

      My experience as well. Long, easy exercise using the 180 Rule, and a clean diet, has had ZERO effect on my body fat. This only leads to a person becoming “skinny fat”. Only when I weight train do I get leaner.

  • Hi Ivan,
    Is it correct that skinny people can be overfat in terms of adipose tissue around organs. How do you measure if you have excess fat around vital organs.
    Thank you ,
    Basil

  • Zoltan says:

    You make a 100% of people being overfat and normal weight. What about the huge amount of starving, under-nourished ones? The other thing I would argue that Alzheimer’s disease is preventable and treatable. In fact is not yet.

  • Rob says:

    That is one of the reasons I became a health coach. Conventional wisdom is still holding strong and is keeping people in the dark about loosing fat.
    Looking into a basket of a overweight shopper at the grocery store will proof that over and over. Thank you Phil for providing some of the tools!

  • First of all thanks all the wonderful guys and gals who make this site possible.

    I have to agree. The problem is much bigger than calories in and calories out. We have to look at the psychology in addition to the physiology.
    The physiology is all messed up in our countries and on top of that the psychology solidifies the improper thinking.

    Our cultures are based around eating or drinking at every gathering. Think about every party, gathering , or outing we base it around food. It is primitive survival hard wiring right? The problem is the things we are eating activates reward centers. To limit these reward centers creates poor self efficacy with making meaningful changes. We have to be more careful in our food and exercise patterns.

    The overeating pandemic is bigger than we know and runs deep. We can only heal ourselves day by day and hope to shed light on our close circles praying that they do the same. This is the road to change IMO.

    Thanks for reading,
    David Piggott (CPT,CES,PES)
    http://www.davidlpiggott.com

  • ROD CARTOCCI says:

    Thanks Dr. Maffetone…
    Your article succinctly, clearly and comprehensively describes the issue.
    Our Network’s mission deals with this, daily, and I, for one, am heartened to know that you are like-minded.

  • john says:

    Great article. I just started my two week test today and am excited to live a healthier life and incorporate the wisdom found here. For most of my life I have been overweight or close when I was in the military although standard health tests say I am fine until weight is brought up. Love being active but its when I am bored and can open the fridge and eat what I want that is bringing me down. Looking around the family table at Thanksgiving I see what will happen without a positive change. Hoping to survive this next two weeks and in a year or two be out of the overfat group. Keep up the great work and the app is great.

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