When Overweight and Obesity Are the New Normal

In the 1960’s, only 13 percent of the population was obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Remember this is just obesity we are talking about, and does not include those who are in the overweight category.)

Just 50 years later, the obesity rate was 36 percent. An article published the other day in the USA Today indicated that the obesity rate could top 42 percent by 2030 if the rising trend continues at the same pace.

Although there were a lot of good statistics in the article about the cost of obesity in America and the medical problems associated with obesity, what I found very interesting was this statement from one of the study authors, Eric Finklestein.

[The obesity] estimates assume that the environment that promotes obesity in the USA has neared a peak. The country “is already saturated” with fast-food restaurants, cheap junk food and technologies that render people sedentary at home and work, he says. “We don’t expect the environment to get much worse than it is now, or at least we hope it doesn’t.

Are we finally saturated with fast food restaurants, cheap food, and the technology that encourages us to be completely sedentary?

Think about it. In the early 1960’s there were not fast food restaurants on all four corners of a busy intersection, there were not garage door openers installed on every garage door so you did not even need to get out of your car, and there were not nearly the abundance of convenience foods that now crowd the grocery store shelves. Additionally, computers weren’t around, video games were of course non-existent, and kids and adults were more physically active.

I am not an intellectual, but I certainly see the cause and effect here between the increase in the availability of junk foods, the advent of some technologies and the obesity rate. The question to me is this: Is this as bad as it gets in terms of obesity?

The study authors seem to think not because they do predict an obesity rate rising another 6 percent over the next 18 years even if we are at the saturation point for unhealthy restaurants and technology.

People who are at a healthy weight are in the minority these days, with over 60 percent of Americans being either obese or overweight. As more and more people struggle with their weight, the perception of what is normal and healthy often shifts. This is one reason that I see for the obesity rate possibly climbing over the next several years – because we all become more and more accustomed to seeing an overweight person as normal and possibly take less action to keep our own weights at a healthy level.

When overweight and obesity become the new normal, then it becomes easier and easier for us to throw our hands up in the air and give up. After all, why fight to get to a healthy weight when the majority of people are not at a healthy weight and eating unhealthy, junky food is easier than preparing healthy meals with natural ingredients.

I want to tell you why not to give up the fight and to never stop spreading the message that getting to a healthy weight is worth every struggle you will endure.

Your health and the health of the children.

I’d encourage you to resist seeing overweight and obesity as the new normal and continue in your journey to turn back the tide of obesity. People always ask me if the struggles I had with losing 150 pounds were worth it. I give them an unequivocal “yes” because as hard as it might have been to say no to chocolates or chips, it was a thousand times harder to break my dining room chair, struggle to breathe, or feel like a beached whale when I sat on the floor.

Do you see the “new normal” being a contributing factor to the projected increase in obesity over the next decade? Diane

Please visit my post over at Attune Foods where I talk about Mystery Foods – great comments over there! Thanks so much!

33 thoughts on “When Overweight and Obesity Are the New Normal

  1. blackhuff says:

    I do see that the “new normal” being a contribution to the projected increase in obesity. And I would not be surprised, if obesity numbers rise due to us humans, finding ways to make food more convenient.
    I want to do a blog post similar to his one and will refer back to yours, as I have a few points more to add to this which supports your point of view on obesity.

  2. Diandra says:

    I think this needs to be split into two different parts – weight and health. First of all I do think that there is a relation between weight and health, but I also think that an obese person eating too much healthy food may be ina better condition than a skinny woman living on a chocolate bar and a clice of pizza per day. Second, some people indeed are obese for medical reasons – a friend of mine has to take steroids for her disease and has gained weight because of this, does anyone think she should have to suffer the humiliation/frustration of having th wear dark grey tents instead of clothes that make her feel as good and sexy as possible?

    Living healthier is a great thing and will in most cases inevitably lead to a healthier weight as well, but I think putting the focus on weight alone is not enough to make lasting changes.

  3. Sharon says:

    IMHO, we are nowhere near the saturation point. Every time I walk into a grocery store, there are “new” products there to entice. The food industry will see to this. They know our “need” to see and try new things and will continue to package and repackage processed food items that overworked, stressed out Americans will purchase and consume without a second thought.

    Not only do these facts apply to our healthy and weight, but also speak to our increasing personal debt and stress levels. When will we ever learn that enough is enough? More food, more money, more technology, more “things” will NEVER, EVER make us happier, peaceful or more content!

  4. I ❤ 2 Eat says:

    I totally hear you. I think people should take responsibility for their health and the health of their children. There may be more options now than in the ’60s for fast food restaurants, but there is also more knowledge available about healthy eating now than there likely was then. It’s in having individuals make the right choices about what we eat that will keep obesity and overweight becoming the new normal.

  5. Karen@WaistingTime says:

    I do think that there is a lot of food now that contributes to this. But, of course, we should all consider our weight our own responsibility. In an ideal world. What is ironic to me is that it seems that we are also in a society with more and more ways to be healthy than ever before. Where’s that influence?

    • I ❤ 2 Eat says:

      haha – how did we manage to post at the same time, and with very similar thoughts? I usually don’t post in the mornings, but it’s Friday and will be a slow day at work!

  6. Emergefit says:

    I’ll be quite honest; if you stand back and view the directionality of social trends from far away, I believe you will see irreversible patterns and trends in many areas. As complexity increases, and directionality the directionality of man continues, new trends often begin, and the direction of existing trends may turn, but they never reverse. This applies to religion, politics, ethics, and yes, even obesity. That is my long-winded way of saying the food system is not set up for the obesity trend to reverse.

    As much as I would like to see it change, I don’t believe it will. By 2030 our planet will be very different, obesity included. I will probably be alive to witness it, but I’m not optimistic that I will like too much of what I see. Sorry if that’s buzz-kill, but I just don’t see things getting better. I hope I’m wrong…

  7. Wishful Shrinking says:

    I do think it is the new normal. I think with people seeing others who are overweight and think oh I am not bad off everyone carries a few extra pounds it skews the minds eyes of the reality. I was having a tlk with someone this week about weightloss surgery that his dr had suggested and he said I really don’t think I need it I am not that over weight. He was maybe 300 pounds. I don’t know what his goal weight is but I am sure that he is having consquences of being the weight is at. I am not huge fan of parts of the show Biggest Loser but what I LOVE is that they put peoples weights right out there. I think the first person I ever lied to about my weight was ME. I didn’t weight for years and was always surprized when I got pictures back that I couldn’t believe how big I was.

  8. Mairi Brown says:

    I agree that being obese is becoming the norm but I think part of it is that we’ve become brainwashed to believe that its okay to have artificial sweetner in everything and that going on a strict diet that someone else controls for you is the answer. I have a friend that periodically goes on a strict diet, loses all her weight and then gains it all back when she goes back to her old eating haits. She’s done this every two or three years for as long as I’ve known her and she can’t figure out why she can’t keep the weight off.

  9. Janis says:

    We might be able to kid ourselves that it’s culturally “normal,” but our pancreases won’t buy it.

  10. nan @ lbddiaries says:

    If you take this post and add it to your other post on GMO foods, then I see a very unhealthy and scary trend starting – obese people who can’t get healthy because the foods are so chemical-filled the nutrients have disappeared. Yes I believe the “new norm” will continue contributing to obesity. People tend to adapt to new norms very quickly (especially if it means they don’t have to workout and give up their fave foods). Kind of reminds me of the animated movie, Wall E where everyone was obese, sat in moving chairs and were blindly living their lives as the “norm” – until circumstances challenged that norm. You keep challenging us to live healthily – I’m listening!

  11. Doug @ Health Habits says:

    Back in the olden days, people ate real food and only people with big bucks were able to become truly obese.

    Nowadays, with the availability of cheap, nutrient empty, calorie dense foods + communities built around the car + 24 hr tv/media/internet… we have seen an explosion of obesity amongst all socio-economic groups.

    In fact, lower income communities are showing the highest rates of obesity.


  12. KCLAnderson (Karen) says:

    To me the key is to focus on and strive for what you want versus fighting against what you don’t want. That is why the current “war on obesity” is so off the mark. If we focused on and strove for health, there might be an interesting paradigm shift. As you point out, there’s unhealthy food everywhere and it’s slickly supersized and manufactured and marketed. And it’s because there’s a LOT of money to be made. There’s also a huge demand and market for weight loss products/diets/surgeries because there’s a LOT of money to be made there, as well. Right now, there’s no real money to be made in moderation, healthy foods, moderate exercise…it’s all about the extremes. The question is: “how did we get here?” Is it because people got fat out of nowhere and now it’s normal? How did our food industry morph into something we can’t trust? Why do we now have aisles of candy and soda in the checkout lanes of places like Best Buy? It all comes down to $$$$$$$$. Add that into a society of people who are anxious, depressed, feel empty inside, are ashamed, guilty, etc, etc, and this is what we get. Legal substance abuse. And an industry more than willing to oblige.

  13. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    So many great comments… I don’t know what to say – People want what they want, when they want it & they sort of live that way. They underestimate how much they eat & over estimate how many calories they burn off. They often know the truth but avoid it. Then we have the family factor & not teaching in the home the importance of being healthy & fit. It is scary – I wish I had some good insight but I think people just don’t want to put in the hard work and it is hard work.

  14. Taryl says:

    I think we are closer to hitting the saturation point than some of the other commenters, but that is because I know some people are predisposed to resist obesity by the way their bodies process excess energy, and that population, even if they gain weight, will never achieve super morbid obesity without intense effort because their bodies will only grow the fat cells they’re currently posses but not grow new ones, which is what is required to achieve levels of obesity like that I attained *blush*

    I agree with you 100% that it is worth the effort and struggle against social trends to remain healthy, both in habits and bodyweight! I want to be around for my kids, and more importantly I want to model health for them. They do have my cruddy genes regarding weight, but healthy habits and choices with food and activity will keep them doing very well and it is my mission to make sure that is the case. I don’t want to die of diabetes or heart disease, and I don’t want their quality of life dictated by whether or not they fit in the chair.

    I have committed myself for a lifetime to never giving up on these pursuits and it’s almost four years now that I have made good on that. If the world is getting progressively more obese, I can’t control that. But I will do my very best to make sure my own home isn’t in those statistics, at the very least!

  15. LovesCatsinCA says:

    Thanks for this, Diane. The “new normal” is frightening. People sometimes say that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 and those were the good old days in terms of curvy women being the ideal, etc. Curvy women were the ideal back then because people actually had waists. And with the gradual “growing” of sizes over time for “vanity” reasons (I wear a size smaller in expensive clothing than I do in clothes I buy at a place like JC Penney’s), in current sizing, Marilyn Monroe would be a size 6. So Marilyn was not fat at all, contrary to how large a size 12 woman is in current time, unless one is six feet tall or something. Size creep is why I am heavier and have a few extra inches around the middle and at my hips than I did 25 years ago, but wear a size smaller.

    I know it’s way too easy to justify things… I know plenty of women who have maintained the same weight and size since college–yet there is this almost tacit permission in this society that it’s okay to gain weight after [fill in the blank]–pregnancy, turning 30, turning 40, menopause, etc. It’s not an issue if you’re five pounds heavier a couple years after having a child–it might be if you’re fifty. It’s not an issue if you gain a couple pounds in a year–unless you do that every year for 20.

    I’ve been making efforts to turn around an extra ten pounds that crept back on after my initial weight loss…I found out by looking at some past food diaries from past weight management efforts, that this is the same weight I’ve crept to when I was 22, 32…37…so I know I will have to be more vigilant to keep the extra weight off. I got too busy and involved in life to be preoccupied with food–my bad.

    I know someone who had to have dialysis for years, and eventually a kidney transplant. By the time she found out she had type 2 diabetes, she had pretty much destroyed her kidney function. At age 30. She was an overweight child and obese adult.

    So please keep telling your readers to go for health. Eat healthy most of the time… get some movement in…learn to measure and weigh until you know what a portion looks like. And we need to wipe the word “full” out of our vocabularies for food and teach that to our kids. Are you satisfied? Are you no longer hungry? It’s challenging to stop sometimes but we need to.

    • Janis says:

      I remember a women’s clothing store that was around when I was a kid called 5-7-9, because those were the sizes they stocked. The women who shopped there were positively birdlike.

      Nowdays, my 5’8″ @ZZ is a size 4. o_O

      I was 11/12 when I was a high school. Then, a few years later, I suddenly started being able to fit into 9/10s. Struck me as odd at the time. Then, I had to buy size 8s. Then, I was shipping 6s back to the catalog and replacing them with 4s. It’s been this long, slow slide toward zero for the last 30 years. It’s to the point where I can’t shop for clothing online since I cannot possibly predict what freaking size I am.

  16. John says:

    Thanks for posting this. I have this theory – that weight is an issue now because the people around them are overweight. What I mean is that back in the early 80’s, when I was a teenager, you could eat yourself sick for $10 (in today’s money value). A few bags of chips, some sweets and some drink to wash it down. Why weren’t so many people obese back then? Because it took time for weight to ‘catch up’. New Zealanders were increasing weight by about a gram a day. That’s not a lot. That’s about one tenth of an apple a day.

    I was looking up on Google Scholar (a great reference, by the way) on obesity a long time ago and what I found interesting was that about 1/3 of people were overweight as defined by BMI 100 years ago. That number hasn’t changed. So the people overweight back then would now be in the obese category and half of the people left would become overweight.

  17. Tammy says:

    A few months ago it was as if I woke up from a long sleep because I started to notice that I wasn’t the only obese person around. For so long I have felt like the fat lady that was left behind when her circus left town. Of course, I am still bigger than most of the people I see, but I have noticed larger people at work, at the store and walking in town. I don’t like being part of this statistic and am now working to change that. I want to move out of the obesity zone way before 2030 though, maybe as early as 2013 or 2014.

  18. Karen P says:

    Yes, sadly, I do see a trend. I like your reminder to us to never stop spreading the message that loosing weight is worth it. I know the best message I can send is to my daughter who is likely to model after me.

    The hurdles to weight maintenance in a food focused world are many and complex- advertising, food politics, food science by making certain foods more addictive.

    Even “well meaning” people telling me that eating small meals with healthy fats are going to cause me “to gain all that weight back again in no time”. I’m smack dab in the middle of my BMI range and eating 90 % Primal/ Paleo diet with good lab work, muscle strength, post menopause and middle age. Dang, If I can kick a 40 year yo-yo weight problem to the curb- It can be done, but not by eating a lot of processed, obesiogenic, foods- IMO. Discovering what NOT to eat was far more important than what I should be eating for the final key to my success.

    I do think it will get worse before it gets better. Thanks for blogging about it, writing your book, and writing about it in general. I’ll be putting my talk to the walk by starting a weight maintenance group soon. I’m sure it will be interesting and I hope to have the group grow as more address their individual weight loss goals.

    Karen P

  19. Janis says:

    Tangential but related: I was in the supermarket today shopping for stuff I needed, and I also bought myself a pint of ice cream. As happens from time to time, someone there looked at me and said, “And you eat that?

    I replied, “Not all in one sitting. This’ll last me two weeks.”

    He rolled his eyes like I had just told him that I was from the planet Mars. I’m sorry, but it is not right to eat an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting! It’s normal now, though. Just like obesity.

    It really is just all down to how much and how frequently, and no one wants to hear that. They’d rather be absolved of any responsibility by concluding that it’s my magic skinny hormones or my magic skinny metabolism, when it’s just that I don’t eat as much as they do. Why that’s the case is where all the complexity lies, but my thighs and butt fat don’t care about that — to them, it really is just calories-in-calories-out. All the complexity comes into play when you ask WHY someone thinks a pint of ice cream in one sitting is even vaguely normal, and that can be a real thorny question.

    But as long as a pint of ice cream and an entire sleeve of thin mints is “normal,” so is obesity.

      • Janis says:

        The “good stuff” only comes in pints. 🙂 The half-gallon cartons usually have too much air whipped into them. Probably less calorie-dense that way, though.

        I’m still thinking about this and how to move off of this “new normal” of eating an entire pint of VERY heavy ice cream in one sitting, and I’m not coming up with a solution. We say that we need to teach our kids good eating habits, but I’ve heard a lot of people saying that the “reason” they are overweight is because their parents were “too rigid” about food. Not sure I buy that, but there you have it. I’ve heard that where people have no rigidity or control over junk food, they don’t gorge themselves when they get hold of it … but then if some people just have no off-switch for their appetites, they WILL gorge if it’s there, no matter what.

        So what does a parent do to try to keep the next generation’s pancreases from keeling over? Don’t let them have access to crap — then, they’ll move out of the house and gorge themselves on crap and become obese as adults. Have crap available so they don’t learn to associate it with being forbidden and hence irresistible, and they’ll just gorge anyway and be obese children. It’s looking like they will be obese either way, but at least if you control their intake as kids, they won’t start out obese at age 8 and hence will probably have an easier time of getting the weight off as adults and keeping it off.

      • Janis says:

        This is the same outlook I grew up with — the notion of what I later grew up to call once-a-day food, once-a-week food, and once-a-year food. It resulted in two siblings with no weight issues, and one who is overweight. Each of our inherent tendencies to eat beyond fullness or not and to prefer junk or not seem to be hard-wired in some ways.

      • Dr. J says:

        Parents ought to set a good example regardless. That way at least the parents will benefit 🙂

        Think about all the siblings you know that were raised in almost the same way, yet they usually turn out differently. The child’s varied reaction to the environment tends to make all the difference.

      • Janis says:

        At that point, it is looking like restricting kids’ access to crap food when young is really the only thing to do. Either they will get used to not eating it and settle out at a healthy weight, or they will go overboard once they are on their own and have no adult supervision, gain weight, and at least have an easier time losing it should they choose to do so, since apparently not having been obese a a child is one of the big predictors of successful maintenance.

  20. asithi says:

    Yes, overweight do become the new normal overtime. I have overweight friends tell me that I am too disciplined in my eating and I should just have more fun. One of them actually cheered me on when I gained 42 pounds during my pregnant, which I am glad to say I’ve since lost.

    But I never feel deprived. I have dessert 2-3 times a week. I don’t have a taste for overly salty, sweet, or fatty food (well, except for Starbucks treats that I limit to once per week). But I know that if I have “more fun” with my eating regularly, I can only do it for a short period of time before I compromise my health. Whereas, if I limit my treats to only a few times a week, I can eat like the way I currently do for the rest of my life.

    This is the reason why I like traveling to different countries. You always come back home with fresh eyes. When you surround yourself with people constantly dieting and lamenting about their weight, sometimes you lose sight that there is another way to live.

    And yes, I believe it is important to continue to spread the message of healthy eating and exercise. My 14 month watches and mimics me constantly. Just the other day, her grandmother was wondering why she pushes her butt in the air. I told my mother that I think she is doing yoga (the downward dog). My daughter is fascinated with my dumbbells. I might have to get her some “toy weights.”

  21. Dr. J says:

    Of course I am familiar with all of this.

    A few years ago one of my surgical residents gave me a bumper sticker that read; “Why Be Normal?” Of course it was meant to be displayed upside down. I trashed it and live the concept 🙂

    I don’t care about societies distorted normal. I put my energy into being my normal, and try to spread the message as you do, Diane, with example and print.

  22. Susan Bewley says:

    I think the biggest choice people have to make is deciding not to be healthy by societies norm, but themselves. I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum – having had an eating disorder and now losing the weight from the consequences and dealing with that eating disorder. I think it’s more than just fast food that is the problem, but how we perceive one another. Why would women and men alike want to lose weight when they are striving toward an impossible goal for their bodies. We need to remember that you are losing weight not to fit in, but to be healthy and live longer!

  23. Sarah says:

    Our society is full of contradictions and social expectations. We’re flooded with commercials for fast food, junk food, etc. Then we are told that we are too fat, so we are sold frozen meals, diet pills, meal replacement bars/shakes, etc. We judge and shame overweight individuals while the average size keeps increasing. Rates of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder) are increasing and infecting younger and younger children. As someone who has gone from underweight anorexic to a 200lb binge eater, I’ve struggled to find the proper balance between food, exercise, social expectations, and the physical limitations of my body. I think we need massive amounts of education in regards to nutrition, exercise, and positive body image. We need stricter food regulations in regards to GMOs, non organic food, and livestock farming practices.

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