Take a walk down any street in the city or any aisle in the grocery store and one thing is abundantly clear: Americans love to snack.
Weâve got shops just for cupcakes, crepes, or even macaroni and cheese. Even home furnishing stores have candy readily available to satisfy your sweet tooth. In the grocery store, it seems like you canât even buy single single-serving treats anymoreâitâs all big bags with enough candy for a whole family. But guess what: weâre not sharing. All the while the serving sizes in restaurants make the jaws of most foreigners hit the floor.
To say binge eating is a problem in America is putting it lightly. To some, itâs considered an epidemic. But why? Is there a reason why a large number of Americans simply canât stop? Is it more than just cultural factors, self-esteem, availability, or other existential factors that contribute to the super-sizing of American meals and snacks? There are also millions of American women (and some men) who eat food, feel guilty, and then purge. Whether youâre at one end of the spectrum or the other, you might be asking yourself, âWhatâs going on?â
Binge eating is a double-edged sword with two extremes. One is linked to body image (bulimia/anorexia) while the other is linked to coping or addiction (obesity). Both are extremely important and encompass a number of factors making them very difficult to treat and diagnose.
America has the most obese people in the world and is second to Mexico in obesity per capita. The numbers of obese Canadians has tripled since the mid-1980s. These are all North American countries that seem to experience higher rates of obesity than other parts of the world. A look at a World Health Organization (WHO) map of global obesity clearly indicates the majority of obesity occurs in these regions. Is there something in North American genetics that makes us obese? It really depends on whom you ask. Itâs also interesting to note that as North American culture continues to spread globally, obesity rates seem to correlate.
The Genetic Reason
Dr. Kelly Klump, an esteemed professor at Michigan State University, has discovered that genetics play a significant role in binge eating. She recently decided to conduct an experiment involving rats to help her distinguish which genes are making it so difficult to leave the snacks on the shelf.
The bulk of Dr. Klumpâs research is aimed at examining why eating disorders exist. Her goal is to find effective treatments for bulimia nervosa and anorexia, conditions that plague millions of Americans (including an overwhelming amount of young women). Eating disorders are one of the most pressing psychological conditions facing the nation, while posting the highest mortality rate of all psychological disorders. Anorexia, for example, is a condition where young women (and some men) binge eat only to purge their system of the food by vomiting shortly after. At the other end of the spectrum, obesity is linked to one in five American deaths.
Dr. Klump recently looked at two strains of rats with different genetics to see if one was more likely to binge. Each group was fed the same meal at the same time for two weeks and she included intermittent servings of vanilla frosting at random times every second day. Frosting was chosen because humans tend to binge on sweets, while the timing was designed to mimic human binge eating habits.
After the trial she noticed that binge eating was much higher in one of the rat strains. This helps prove the theory that genetics influence binge eating because rats have no existential pressures impacting their pressure to eat. Itâs not a social or psychological reflex and rats surely donât care about their physical appearance, so itâs safe to say that one strain featured genetics that made them more prone to binging. Now Dr. Klumpâs challenge is mapping the gene, or group of genes, that lead to binge eating.
Dr. Klumâs study, in my opinion, is more relevant to overeating as opposed to binging and purging. This is because both strains of rats were noted to consume their regular meals, while one was more likely to binge in between meals resulting in consumption of additional calories.
I believe binge eating is the result of a number of factors including, but not limited to, genetics. We need to look at issues affecting both ends of the spectrum and acknowledge people can have a strained relationship with food in different ways.
When youâre talking about binge eating itâs impossible to ignore obesity and bulimia as a cultural phenomenon. Just some food for thought
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