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Do microwaves cause obesity?

(article, Kim Carlson)

There’s lots of speculation about the causes of the obesity epidemic: lack of exercise, lack of sleep, fast food, even high-fructose corn syrup. But microwaves? 

The BBC reported recently that at least one expert sees a correlation between the advent of household microwave ovens — and the quick prep foods that came with them — and worldwide weight gain:

bq.Professor Jane Wardle says obesity rates started to rise soon after 1984 — around the time of the rapid spread of microwave ownership. The mid-1980s also saw the first ready-meals appearing in shops.

Wardle, a professor of clinical psychology at University College London, tracked obesity rates and determined they began to rise most dramatically between 1984 and 1987:

bq.“So then we looked at what changes were going on in the food and activity world at that time, and one of the striking changes was there were differences in the speed with which we could prepare a meal as a consequence of the introduction of microwaves.”

bq.She added that food also became cheaper and ready meals began to appear on supermarket shelves.

bq.“I’m not trying to demonise the microwave, but it was emblematic of a change that took place in the 1980s in terms of the availability of food — a real change in the disincentives for eating.”

Two other British experts had different notions about obesity; one blamed supermarkets and the other the rise in technology since the Second World War, which has afforded people a more sedentary lifestyle. The three presented their opinions at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June. 

Dr. David Haslam, clinical director of Britain's National Obesity Forum, acknowledged that all the theories could be correct, but added that obesity was probably the result of several causes, not just one.