WEDNESDAY, June 22 (HealthDay News) -- The edict to eat less and exercise more is far from far-reaching, as a new analysis points to the increased consumption of potato chips, French fries, sugary sodas and red meat as a major cause of weight gain in people across the United States.
Inadequate changes in lifestyle factors such as television watching, exercise and sleep were also linked to gradual but relentless weight gain across the board.
Data from three separate studies following more than 120,000 healthy, non-obese American women and men for up to 20 years found that participants gained an average of 3.35 pounds within each four-year period -- totaling more than 16 pounds over two decades.
The unrelenting weight gain was tied most strongly to eating potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, red and processed meats and refined grains such as white flour.
"This is the obesity epidemic before our eyes," said study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and the division of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "It's not a small segment of the population gaining an enormous amount of weight quickly; it's everyone gaining weight slowly."
"I was surprised how consistent the results were, down to the size of the effect and direction of the effect," he said.
The study is published in the June 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Participants included 50,422 women in the Nurses' Health Study, followed from 1986 to 2006; 47,898 women in the Nurses' Health Study II, followed from 1991 to 2003; and 22,557 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, tracked from 1986 to 2006.
The researchers assessed independent relationships between changes in lifestyle behaviors and weight changes within four-year p
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