A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that over 36 percent are still obese.

Ten years ago, the obesity ratios are generally balanced between the genders. This time, however, CDC found that women are in the forefront of the obesity race at 38.3 percent, with the men closely behind at 34.3 percent.

According to lead author Dr. Cynthia Ogden, Hispanic and black women are leading the growing gap between the genders. While obesity rates between white women and men linger in equality, 56.9 percent of black women are obese compared to 37.5 percent of black men. The study found 45.7 percent of Hispanic women are overweight compared to 39 percent of their male counterpart.

What drives the continuous weight gain?

When it comes to obesity, many people point to junk foods as the main culprits. However, that's not what behavioral economist David Just and his research team found in a new study published [pdf] in Social Science Research Network journal.

The researchers analyzed the 2007 to 2008 data of around 5,000 American adults who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The CDC also used some of the data for their 2013 study wherein they found fast food provides more of obese Americans' daily calories.

For their study, Just and his team decided to exclude the heaviest participants in the survey and see what's still driving the weight gain. They found no link between the BMI and the amount of fast food and junk food consumed by the participants (excluding the heaviest participants). But if junk food isn't the weight offender, what is?

"You increase your consumption of these things, yeah, you're going to put on weight. But that's not to say that is the differentiator between those who are overweight and those who aren't." said Just, who points to the USDA's Economic Research Service findings that showed [pdf] an average American now eats an additional 500 calories in a day compared to the 1970 prior to the obesity outbreak. "I suspect we're eating too many calories from all foods."

Health experts are quick to warn the public about the potential misinterpretations of Just's findings. New York University Medical Center's senior clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller said the findings do not mean eating junk foods such as soda, candy and fast food have not effect on overall health of children and adults. She pointed to many researches that linked fast food with weight gain and various medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The chemical makeup of highly processed foods can trigger cravings for the same food, which could lead to a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating.

"So instead of only recommending cutting calories, we want to also focus on making healthy and affordable food choices, creating strategies for eating out and on the go and enjoying less processed foods," said Heller.

Photo: Emilio Labrador | Flickr

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