Why It Was Easier To Be Skinny In The 1980s, The Atlantic, 30 September 2015
You know I’ve been saying this for years:
A new study finds that people today who eat and exercise the same amount as people 20 years ago are still fatter.
They found a very surprising correlation: A given person, in 2006, eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same quantities of macronutrients like protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher. In other words, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans.
Our study results suggest that if you are 25, you’d have to eat even less and exercise more than those older, to prevent gaining weight,” Jennifer Kuk, a professor of kinesiology and health science at Toronto’s York University, said in a statement.
Kuk put it another way in the press release. Same message:
Our study results suggest that if you are 40 years old now, you’d have to eat even less and exercise more than if you were a 40 year old in 1971, to prevent gaining weight.
Why? Kuk speculated with the three reasons below; all of which come down to endocrine disruptors and other chemicals in the environment. Didn’t the Endocrine Society just say this?
- First, people are exposed to more chemicals that might be weight-gain inducing. Pesticides, flame retardants, and the substances in food packaging might all be altering our hormonal processes and tweaking the way our bodies put on and maintain weight.
- Second, the use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically since the ‘70s and ‘80s. Prozac, the first blockbuster SSRI, came out in 1988. Antidepressants are now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S., and many of them have been linked to weight gain.
- Microbiomes of Americans might have somehow changed between the 1980s and now. It’s well known that some types of gut bacteria make a person more prone to weight gain and obesity. Americans are eating more meat than they were a few decades ago, and many animal products are treated with hormones and antibiotics in order to promote growth. All that meat might be changing gut bacteria in ways that are subtle, at first, but add up over time. Kuk believes the proliferation of artificial sweeteners could also be playing a role.
Also, “Foods of animal origin are the greatest source of human exposure to PCBs and dioxins,” which act as endocrine disruptors. And we’re eating more animal foods.
Press Release: Millennials, Gen Y Need To Eat Less, Workout More To Stave Off Obesity: York U Study, York University, 21 September 2-15
Study: Secular Differences In The Association Between Caloric Intake, Macronutrient Intake, And Physical Activity With Obesity, Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 14 September 2015
Conclusions: Factors other than diet and physical activity may be contributing to the increase in BMI over time. Further research is necessary to identify these factors and to determine the mechanisms through which they affect body weight.
Look at this. We’re even more active than we were 20 years ago:
Between 1988 and 2006, frequency of leisure time physical activity increased 47–120%.
Something else I’ve been saying for years is that we need to stop blaming the individual. People are products of their environment. We should be working on changing the environment.
While looking for photos of people from the 1970s, I happened upon this photo of Steve McQueen, age 33, lifting weights in his home. The photo is one of a series taken by LIFE photographer John Dominis in the spring of 1963 at McQueen’s home in Palm Springs.
Since I was around back then, I can attest to McQueen’s body shape being more common in the 70s than it is today. Today, 3 in 4 American men (74%) are overweight or obese.