Packing on the Pounds? Blame the Potato

Americans gain nearly one pound of weight each year after reaching adulthood. Scientists have long speculated about the source of that gain. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine blames it on the lowly potato.

On the basis of increased daily servings of individual dietary components, 4-year weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips (1.69 lb), potatoes (1.28 lb), sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb), unprocessed red meats (0.95 lb), and processed meats (0.93 lb) and was inversely associated with the intake of vegetables (−0.22 lb), whole grains (−0.37 lb), fruits (−0.49 lb), nuts (−0.57 lb), and yogurt (−0.82 lb) (P≤0.005 for each comparison).

About half of the 3.3 pounds adults gained over a four year period could be attributed to potato chips.

Interestingly, Western Civilization owes much of its prominence to the potato. When brought back to Europe in the late 15th Century, the potato caused a population explosion that helped man armies.  Potatoes could grow in areas of Northern Europe that once could barely support settlement.  Easily mashed into baby food, more infants survived and could be weaned sooner speeding up the reproductive cycle.

Comments (8)

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  1. Devon Herrick says:

    In grad school I took a class on development economics. One of the books we were assigned explained Western Civilization owes a significant part of its prominence on two things. One was (Catholic) church bells. The technology for casting church bells was not far removed from casting cannon. Cannon could be placed on merchant ships and used to repel pirates or expansionist Muslim navies patrolling the sea around the Mediterranean. Cannon could also be used to protect trading ports. The other thing that Western Civilization owes a lot of its success to is the potato. The population explosion helped man the armies that used the cannon to repel the Turkish invaders (and the navies that explored the New World).

  2. Buster says:

    What about corn chips? Wasn’t corn found also brought back from the New World? It would be easier to transport and store corn than potatoes?

  3. Linda Gorman says:

    People gained 0.41 lb per drink per day? (from abstract)

    Per capita annual ethanol consumption for people 15 and older in 2007 was 2.31 gallons according to NIAAA. That’s 128 oz times 2.31 or 296 oz. If a standard drink is 10 grams or 1.0 ounce of alcohol, that’s 121 lbs.

    So glad to know I’m significantly underweight. Except for the fact that underweight people have higher mortality, of course.

  4. Dan Quayle says:

    I think you spelled potatoe wrong.

  5. Amanda M. says:

    The fact that so much weight gain is attributed to the potato chip doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s gross, though.

  6. Virginia says:

    The salty, crispy taste of a Lays regular potato chip is nothing shy of the best sensation in the world. Unfortunately, there is a reason that it tastes so good….

  7. Simon says:

    Many potato chips in the past were cooked with trans fats because of taste. Trans fats behave like saturated fat by raising low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol). They are hard to break down due to their biochemical structure, but on the chemical level Omega-3 fatty acids offer promise on reducing levels. Combine that with a potato which is mainly starch and you have a high energy dose that for most people will not be burnt off but be stored as fat. Now potato chips have 0 trans fat in most areas.

  8. Carolyn Needham says:

    I agree with Buster, I wonder what the affect of corn is, especially given how much corn syrup is in everything.