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649848 tn?1534633700

Why it Was Easier to Be Skinny in the 1980's

A study finds that people today who eat and exercise the same amount as people 20 years ago are still fatter.
The Atlantic
    Olga Khazan

"There’s a meme aimed at Millennial catharsis called “Old Economy Steve.” It’s a series of pictures of a late-70s teenager, who presumably is now a middle-aged man, that mocks some of the messages Millennials say they hear from older generations—and shows why they’re deeply janky. Old Economy Steve graduates and gets a job right away. Old Economy Steve “worked his way through college” because tuition was $400. And so forth.

We can now add another one to that list: Old Economy Steve ate at McDonald’s almost every day, and he still somehow had a 32-inch waist.

A 2016 study published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise.

The authors examined the dietary data of 36,400 Americans between 1971 and 2008 and the physical activity data of 14,419 people between 1988 and 2006. They grouped the data sets together by the amount of food and activity, age, and BMI.

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. “However, it also indicates there may be other specific changes contributing to the rise in obesity beyond just diet and exercise.”

Just what those other changes might be, though, are still a matter of hypothesis. In an interview, Kuk proffered three different factors that might be making harder for adults today to stay thin.

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.

Finally, Kuk and the other study authors think that the 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.

The fact that the body weights of Americans today are influenced by factors beyond their control is a sign, Kuk says, that society should be kinder to people of all body types.

“There's a huge weight bias against people with obesity,” she said. “They're judged as lazy and self-indulgent. That's really not the case. If our research is correct, you need to eat even less and exercise even more” just to be same weight as your parents were at your age.

The exercise part is perhaps one area where Old Economy Steve doesn’t have an edge. A membership at one of the newfangled fitness centers of 1987 would go for about $2,800 per year in today’s dollars, and that’s still what it costs today."
Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-it-was-easier-to-be-skinny-in-the-1980s?utm_source=pocket-newtab

There's another article along these same lines that indicates chemicals, stress and other factors might be contributing to the wave of obesity.  I says, even, animals are getting heavier...

That article can be found via the following link:
https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-obesity-era
4 Responses
Avatar universal
I wonder about this exact thing from time to time!  I was a child in the '80s, and I'd go to friends' houses that would be filled with "junk food" - Little Debbie Snack Cakes, Cheetos, you name it. (we were not allowed those things, but I'd buy candy at the pool or nearby store, so it's not like I was that deprived).  We would eat a lot of heavy meals like casseroles, mac and cheese with hot dogs, lasagna.  All of the kids in my family were skinny.  All of the kids in my classes in elementary school were pretty thin too.  And we all ate what would probably be considered "high calorie, low nutrition" foods - fast food, junk  food, and heavy Midwest meals.  

Compared to kids today, it is easy to say that it is video games and cell phones and not enough activity, but we both played a lot outside, running around, as well as early Nintendo games.

I'd love for it to be an "easy answer" like too much corn syrup in soda, but my friends in the '80s all drank tons of soda. I don't know what is causing the obesity crisis today - pesticides/chemicals in our environment, prescription drugs, hormonal diseases, artificial sweeteners, genetics, larger portions, less nutritious, higher calorie foods, or too little exercise.  The list goes on and on, but I'm not sure which, if any, of those are the actual reason for a national (and worldwide) obesity crisis.  I think understanding what the cause is will be necessary to find a solution, and that seems like that may be a long ways off right now.

I love this part of the article, because this encapsulates how I feel about obesity and weight gain, especially after my own struggles:  

The fact that the body weights of Americans today are influenced by factors beyond their control is a sign, Kuk says, that society should be kinder to people of all body types.

“There's a huge weight bias against people with obesity,” she said. “They're judged as lazy and self-indulgent. That's really not the case. If our research is correct, you need to eat even less and exercise even more” just to be same weight as your parents were at your age.
1 Comments
I'm right there with you.  In the 80's my husband and I were raising 2 kids on a farm in the midwest (who entered the "teen scene" during that decade) and we were all on the go all the time and that never stopped all during my working years.

We, too, ate casseroles and other meals (mostly "meat and potatoes" or pasta because they were filling and "stuck to the ribs") that could be put together quickly (or put in the oven and kept warm - depending on the day/time).  My son was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes when he was 10, which would have been 1982.  Because of his diabetes, I did try to limit the amount of sweets and other "fattening" things because we know that all has an effect on the blood glucose.  That's not to say we eliminated "everything" that could affect the blood glucose - I don't think that's possible.

"I'd love for it to be an "easy answer" like too much corn syrup in soda, but my friends in the '80s all drank tons of soda. I don't know what is causing the obesity crisis today - pesticides/chemicals in our environment, prescription drugs, hormonal diseases, artificial sweeteners, genetics, larger portions, less nutritious, higher calorie foods, or too little exercise.  The list goes on and on, but I'm not sure which, if any, of those are the actual reason for a national (and worldwide) obesity crisis."  

I totally agree - the thing is, I think it's probably a combination of all those things, plus a lot more that haven't been identified.  The thing is - IMO, it takes years for these things to have the effect they do.  

I spent days on the farm spraying weeds/using pesticides and herbicides, drinking sugary drinks, smoking, etc - I had no adverse effects at the time.

I didn't have a problem with weight until my thyroid malfunctioned - the question I ask now, is what caused it to malfunction?  Yes, I have Hashimoto's which destroys thyroid function, but what triggered the Hashimoto's? I had 7 siblings and only one other has been dx'd with thyroid problems and she doesn't know if she has Hashimoto's or not (she says she's never been tested).  Why would I be the 1 of 7 with Hashimoto's?  Of course, 5 of them have had one or more cancer each and so far, I haven't been diagnosed with a cancer, though I have a "suspicious" nodule on my thyroid. I'm not going down that rabbit hole... :-)

I agree that we should be kind to people with weight issues.  It's true that it's assumed that anyone overweight is lazy - doesn't bother to eat the right amounts, the right foods or exercise, but I know from my own experience, that there are times that diet/exercise is not a factor.  
Avatar universal
I have some theories, but can't know if I'm right.  I grew up in the late 50's and 60's, and when I look back on my early school photos everyone was thin.  This continued through high school -- I recall one obese person in my high school.  I'm sure there must have been more than one, but that's the only one I remember.  But our parents and their parents were not thin -- or I should say, the women were not thin.  The men were not skinny, they were broader built than people after them were because they grew up doing physical labor.  There were no small forklifts or automatic lift gates on trucks and if you wanted something moved you moved it yourself.  They also almost all served in WWII.  And to say we ate better than now is probably not true.  In the post war period people stopped eating real food.  That's when the canned and frozen food and the phony food mixed up in labs came into being, and we all ate that.  We ate a lot of meat.  Every meal was a meat meal.  So it wasn't that either, and far from growing up in Midwest, I grew up in southern Cal, so it wasn't that either.  As bad as the chemicals are in food and materials today, they were far worse then before we had any gov't regulation and all the science was lies put out by corporations.  But there was one big difference -- although we did drive everywhere when we were old enough, when we were young our parents didn't control our lives the way parents do today.  We weren't raised, we were sent out to pasture every day, so to speak.  If we wanted to go somewhere, we had to walk or ride a bike.  So I don't think it's exercise, because we played, we didn't exercise.  Nobody went to gyms back then.  Nobody jogged.  Nobody came home from work and worked out.  They ate and watched TV,. but adults also played a lot.  Work wasn't their whole lives.  They had more energy, I think, because my Dad would work all day, come home, and then he and my Mom would go out.  They bowled.  They partied.  So I think one part of it is, when we were young and developing, we were always outside playing.  We walked to school.  We rode our bikes if we wanted to go to those hamburger joints, we didn't get driven to them.  So until we were 16 and could drive we did a lot of moving with our own feet.  I think that's a change, because now we have "parenting," which we didn't have then.  We were sent outside or to our rooms to play to get us out from underfoot, and the rest was up to our imagination and our own action.  How we live when we're quite young probably sets a course for us.  I also think another possibility is GMOs, which we didn't have then.  I've read that there is some evidence eating GMO foods might be connected to weight problems.  I don't think this is a proven fact, but a correlation found in a few studies.  No way to know if it's true or not, but it's out there.  I do know that meat eating is a factor in weight in China as they have gained affluence.  But I'm not sure anyone in America ever didn't eat a lot of meat, as there's not a whole lot of native plant foods here to eat as there are in other places.  Now, another thing is, all the adults smoked, and smoking can help control weight.  They drank coffee like water.  The smoking killed them, so I don't advise it, but it might have been a factor because if you're smoking all day you're not eating while you're smoking.  The soda thing I don't believe.  We drank a ton of soda, ate a lot of sugar, destroying our teeth, and I don't see how corn syrup is any more of a weight problem than sugar unless you consider the GMO factor, as corn is one of the GMO crops (soy is the other big one.  Canola oil is another, which we didn't have then.  You can avoid this by buying organic, but most people don't do that).  Anyway, just some thoughts on this.  Peace.
973741 tn?1342342773
They had a lot more fun exercise classes in the 80's and 90's!!  Those were my exercise hey days!  Think body suits and leg warmers!  High top reeboks!  I had it all!!
Avatar universal
What a great thread. Something I think about often. I have no answers other than MAYBE too much stress or not enough sleep. Life was much simpler 35+ years ago.
1 Comments
Actually, no, it wasn't.  It was much harder and much more complicated.  I just don't think people expected it not to be.  Again, over-parenting has its benefits but the drawbacks are kids who grow up not knowing how to independent.  Another problem that has been unmentioned is, although today we have way more labor saving devices and computers to do a lot of our thinking for us, which should make life easier and give us more time to play, the economy has changed a lot.  35plus years ago most people were in a similar boat.  Doctors and lawyers didn't make a lot more money than the guy who owned the local pizza joint.  It was during the rise of the current Republican Party, with Milton Freedman being the theorist for it, that the great divide between rich and poor began, not because that hadn't always been there but because modern technology allowed for the creation of a much larger wealthy class.  Which made prices go way up, which made those who didn't share in this wealth a lot more poor.  Which is very stressful, and at the same time, our politics cared a lot less about the poor.  So we've gone from a lot of people being pretty close in income, which kept prices down, to a society with a stark divide, which allows for the raising of prices because there are so many more affluent people who can afford to buy stuff nobody needs to tailor their prices to everyone.  This could account for a lot.  
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