Is America's Favorite Vegetable Making You Fat?

A new study looks at how meat and potatoes affect your waistline in the long run.

We've all heard the dietary advice: Eat less, exercise more. But what if that's not good enough?

In a comprehensive study published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked into how weight gain (the x-axis) is associated with certain foods (y-axis). They examined the diets of 120,877 health-care professionals from three long-term government-funded studies (the three bars above), and found that, on average, adults gained a little less than a pound every year.

The biggest contributing factor: potato chips, followed by fries. Less surprisingly, processed meats, sodas, and sweets also ranked pretty high in terms of weight gain. So did lack of exercise, watching television, and quitting smoking.

The data suggest a dizzying array of possible factors that contribute to lifetime weight gain. But the prominence of the spud in particular could reopen the debate over the role that the potato, America's favorite vegetable, plays in school lunch.

What's also interesting is that despite the prevailing messages about measuring and quantifying food—whether it's mandatory calorie counting or grocery manufacturers' new labeling system—the study underscores that food quality may matter more. In other words, it's more important to choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, and nuts than it is to just count calories.

Chart via "Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men."

Thumbnail photo (cc) by Flickr user Gudlyf