One day back in the mid eighties, a terrifying fact was discovered: America was getting fatter. Nobody knew quite why, though theories abounded. Fast food, soft drinks, computer games, viruses… everybody had a clear and obvious reason why it had happened. And there was an equally obvious cure. After all, never mind the fact that every single long term study of dieting since the first ones in the nineteen fifties had shown that no matter the structure of the diet, no matter the behavior of the dieter, while most lost weight in the short term, well over ninety per cent would wind up as fat as or fatter than when they started dieting within five years. It was what could be done. Therefore, no matter the futility, no matter the well-documented health issues of repeated cycles of dieting and gaining weight back, we must diet.
Funnily enough, the years of yo yo dieting did not result in a thinner America. We kept getting fatter overall. Then, one day in 1998, the BMI chart got fiddled with to make millions of Americans ‘fatter’ without gaining a single ounce. The rhetoric of fear of fat grew exponentially. It became impossible to turn on the television, read a magazine, or even log onto Yahoo mail without being subjected to fat hate, fat fear, and an increasing number of diet ads.
Today the panic is so ingrained that people honestly believe this level of hate against the fat is simply the standard human nature dating back before the Stone Age, all evidence to the contrary aside.
But a funny thing happened in 2002 that hasn’t been so widely publicized: obesity rates in America leveled off. What’s more, they’ve remained roughly level ever since.
Again, nobody seems able to explain it. All the interventions have proved ineffective, and yet obesity rates are no longer growing.
I have a theory about how and why this is happening. I also predict that sometime in the next oooh, ten to twenty years obesity rates in America will begin to fall.
You see, after years of the Great Depression followed by WWII, young soldiers, sailors, and marines coming back from Europe and Japan and the middle of the Pacific Ocean (where my father spent most of the war) and started starting families. Big families. Between 1946 and 1964 (two years after my auspicious birth!) more than seventy seven million new Americans were born – the largest generation on record. And in a world with better medicines, better access to those medicines, great advances in surgery, and unprecedented prosperity, the vast majority of us survived infancy and childhood.
Funny thing, though: as much as we as a generation have fought the concept, we still age pretty much the way our parents and grandparents did. And that means that when we started hitting our late thirties in the mid-eighties… we started gaining weight, the way most human beings do.
Another funny thing, just as the last of us started hitting forty… obesity rates leveled off.
Time – or better research – may prove me wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that happened! But I do find it interesting that the growth, development, and leveling off of the ‘obesity epidemic’ coincides so strongly with the aging of my generation.
We’ve always had a disproportionate effect on social and economic trends. It seems only logical to me that we would have a similarly disproportionate effect on other statistics.
I’ll be interested to see how much water my theory holds in another ten years.