Obesity: Blame it on your 1950s mom.


From the LAT

Interested to what Dopers have to say. Not sold on the breast-feeding thing. (Disclosure: I sure didn’t.) I can see how restricting food in the womb could lead to bigger problems, but I’m no scientist. I’m thinking back to my grandmother here. (My mom was born in 59.) We have some thicker around the middle, some skinny, and one chunky (but not ‘fat fat’). My mom smoked during pregnancy and was borderline bulimic during some parts of my life. She was kind of chubby the first few years of mine, though.

I still think that weight is a battle with our food options. I’d be interested in what other Dopers think.

From the cite:

“Inadequate nutrition in some of these women could easily have programmed their babies to catch up on growth during infancy — and studies suggest such growth spurts increase the risk of later obesity.”
“Over-nourished kids grew up to be over-nourished women, producing large babies. Large babies, just like too-small babies, are at heightened risk of obesity”


Seems like she’s got all the bases covered there. Narrowing the target down to a pinhole of undefined perfect nourishment makes it hard to attack her argument. I’m more likely to place the blame on helicopter parents who never let the children out of their sight, thus limiting the amount of exercise those kids would normally get. I used to ride my bike thirty to forty miles a day but it’s unlikely I’d be allowed farther than the corner these days.

It could play a part, sure.

But, I think that the clearly predominant causes are a massive increase in how much we eat, and a massive increase in how much of the day we spend sitting down.

But, it’s nice to know I can just blame it on having a parent who grew up in the 60s, and eat some more potato chips out of the bag as I sit here at the computer.

I can’t find it on Google, but a couple of years ago a study found that Americans are burning more calories now than they did the 1970s. They’re just eating that many more calories to make up for it. I’d blame the super-availability of overprocessed foods, because they’re calorie dense, tasty, and full of additives that do god knows what to us.

The 50’s also saw the advent of processed food.

I question her statement that women started watching out for pregnancy weight gain in the 50’s. Maybe it’s a midwest/rural/lack of fashion sense thing, but none of my friends watched their weight during their pregnancies. Our doctors told us to drink lots of milk, exercise, and restrict caffeine intake. Some of us got calcium and iron supplements, and vitamins. Pregnancy didn’t entail nearly the stress that it does now. It was (for the most part) considered routine, not a condition that needed constant monitoring.

But none of us were overweight to begin with. Obesity was rare in the 50’s and 60’s, in my experience. Being thin was not an ideal to strive for. Big boobs were something we all wanted, but we were all thin/normal, so we paid no attention to our weight, during pregnancy or otherwise.

Well…my mom smoked, drank coffee, didn’t breastfeed, had a shapely figure during each of 4 pregnancies…and none of us kids had any kind of fat on us at all until our metabolisms dropped in our 40’s. :stuck_out_tongue: My husband, on the other hand, had a nurse for a mom, who did everything ‘right’, with two children, and…each child has a weight issue. So…just a couple more examples to toss into the empirical data pool.

Ah, the Goldilocks theory of nutrition :dubious:

In my family the big babies (f 8lbs+ 22", m 10lbs+ 23", m 12lbs 23") grew up to be normal weight, and the perfectly average sized babies are the ones who are now obese.

I don’t buy it. My mom smoked and drank coffee, and probably alcohol, too, during her four closely spaced pregnancies. There were very few fat kids in my school, and I think some of it was being outside and running around all day. We weren’t really allowed in the house much during the day; kids belonged outside playing. My husband said he would get up, eat breakfast, then go out and come home for dinner and go back out 'til dark.

Hang on, there’s some big mystery as to why people get obese? As radical and counter-intuitive as it might first appear, I thought that the “eats too much / gets too little exercise” theory was accepted in most learned circles by now?

Well, either that, or dark matter.

Well, I think the reason there is so much research on obesity is we’ve not really hard any food scarcity problems in the United States in about 70+ years, but we didn’t have an obesity epidemic in the 50s and 60s, or even really the 70s or 80s. Obviously people started getting fatter in the 70s and 80s, but I don’t remember fat children being “common” until the 1990s, and “prevalent” until the last 10 years or so.

Fat adults became relatively ordinary but still not the majority in the 70s and 80s, and now fat adults outnumber healthy weight adults. Something that shocks me is most people think only the 400 lb guy who waddles is obese. That guy might be morbidly obese, but if you’re of average height and carrying more than 20 lb of extra weight you very well might hit the obese range. If you have any real visible fat build up, you are almost certainly overweight. I feel like the line has moved so far people have started to think normal weight is synonymous with having a “regular sized paunch”, but that’s actually a sign of being genuinely overweight.

What’s also interesting is for a time America seemed to be having its own obesity epidemic while the rest of the Western world was spared, but it looks like America was just the vanguard of this movement as much of the rest of the Western world is now enjoying the beginnings of their own obesity epidemic as well.

I think that’s also a big area of research, in the 90s when America really got obese, why was Europe mostly spared? Why is Europe starting to catch up now? Are different products available in Europe now that were already available in the United States in the 1990s? Or have lifestyles in Europe changed in the past 10 years such that they are more likely to be obese versus the 1990s.

In the United States, 36% of American adults are obese, a true epidemic. 68% of Americans are overweight or obese. In recent years more than 50% of Europeans are now overweight, and in the U.K. 20% of the adult population is obese. In Italy and Romania, less than 10% of the population is obese. So it’s also an interesting area to look into, Italy is very first world just like the UK, so why are they half as obese?

My personal pet theory is many people can’t self regulate their food intake. When I lost all of my weight, something I noticed is some people I knew were essentially “life long healthy weight without trying.” A lot of people in my life are fitness freaks who hit 40 and got a high blood pressure/high cholesterol diagnosis and took up aggressive dieting and playing tennis or distance running or etc because the fear of grim death made them make serious changes. I’m not as interested in how those people got to a healthy weight and stayed there–they did it the same way I did, through hard work and what felt like a Herculean effort.

But the people I’ve known most of my life who have always been at a healthy weight, and have never struggled to maintain one, those are the ones who interested me. Something I’ve noticed about these people, is to a one, they simply won’t eat when they aren’t genuinely hungry. What I mean is, thinking back years and years, we’d be at someone’s house and there’d be a tray of cookies set out. If they were hungry, these guys would eat the cookies. But if not, they wouldn’t. Even if they weren’t necessarily “full”, but just “not hungry” they wouldn’t eat.

These are a minority of the people I know. Probably 85% of the people I know, someone puts out a plate of cookies, they’re going to take one or two, maybe three. But a small minority, for whatever reason, have no “desire” to eat something if they aren’t actually hungry. As in they really feel hungry. Most people I know will want a piece of cake or a cookie or some chips or etc even if they aren’t hungry, because it’s tasty food that is being provided and they’re going to want to eat it. That’s how I am, based on the % of Americans who are obese I think that is how a lot of Americans are.

Basically I think a small minority of our population has retained some natural ability to self-regulate their weight by only eating when they are hungry, which leads to a natural balance. For people like me, the only way I was able to lose weight was to meticulously count every calorie that came into my body and stop putting more calories in once I had reached my daily limit (and eventually I had a system where I pre-planned an entire week’s meals every Sunday and adhered to that schedule with the fervor of a religious zealot.)

Since it seems most people are like me, lacking in that natural regulation, the introduction of cheap processed snack food is probably what has lead to obesity. I don’t think my dad was any better than me at naturally regulating his weight. I just think that the only snack food that people had around their house back then might be an apple or an orange or something. People didn’t keep Oreos, chips, microwave dinners, 24 packs of Coca-Cola or etc in their house back then. If you wanted to eat a real meal you had to make one, which involved using raw ingredients and preparing them.

I think the people of the 1950s, if you put a pack of Oreos on their kitchen counters, and restocked it every day, those people would get fat with that easily available food. But when all they might have is a bit of produce or something as easily available “hand food” it requires deliberate effort to over eat. I think people will naturally over eat when it’s easy to do so, but will not over eat when it requires effort to painstakingly prepare a meal.

Another thing, too - adults snack a hell of a lot more than they used to and on much crappier foods. I remember when scientists all of a sudden began touting that people should eat 5 to 6 small meals a day, which is great in theory, but if you take into consideration that a) people no longer have any sense of proportion when it comes to sizing and b) food selections are typically going to be poor, encouraging frequent meals is going to result in fatter people.

I think that Martin Hyde is really on to something. I always blamed the ubiquity of shitty snack food. The fit people that I know (and I am one of them) generally forgo the shitty candy and doughnuts that are always laying around and/or have a regular exercise routine. It’s pretty simple (simple does not necessarily mean easy): portion control and exercise.

Is it portion control of avoiding shitty snack food? Your genius theory switched up in the middle, there. You can eat a portion of Oreo and thus not lack portion control.

Good point. What it in the portion is as important as the size of it.

Meh. Who knows, but my mom breastfed me (it was a new granola thing at the time) and never dieted much. I’m on the pudgy side because I like sugar.

My Grandmother had very large babies, and was later diagnosed with diabetes. Her post diagnosis babies were all very large.

Each and every one of the children born to her after the diagnosis have had obesity issues since attaining adulthood.

It is really just calories in versus calories out. That’s it. You can stay skinny eating nothing but junk food as long as you keep the energy in/out equation in balance. It won’t be good for you but you can maintain or lose wight as long as the calories are low enough. See the Twinkie Diet a nutrition professor recently put himself on to demonstrate this basic fact.

The problem is that most people use junk food as a calorie dense addition to their regular diet. Your body is like a reverse bank account. Every single thing you digest has to be burned off or you will gain weight over time so you need to keep the deposits and withdrawals in balance. It doesn’t much to throw that off on the plus side. People who want to lose weight are much better off restricting caloric intake and doing moderate exercise than by trying to eat what they want and burn it off through extreme exercise. The human body is so incredibly efficient that it takes Herculean amounts of exercise to burn off even just one extra typical American snack.

Sugar, processed food, TV - can’t blame my mom for any of that.

A thousand years ago…while riding bikes all day, out playing all day, blah blah…the 50’s/60’s family diet WAS different. Every night we had a portion of meat, boiled or mashed potatoes, and a vegetable, sometimes a salad of lettuce and tomato with oil and vinegar. One serving of each, there were no leftovers, and if there were, Dad got them for lunch. A dessert, usually cake. We simply didn’t have all the cookies, candy, doughnuts, and snacks we do now. (We had a weekly delivery of Charles Chips in a big tin can.) There were no fast food restaurants, unless you count the ice cream stand on Friday nights in the summer, and the drive-in (like on Happy Days - burgers, fries, Coke. And that was indeed a special treat.) Pizza on occasion, but they were rather small and we got one piece each…I hate to keep harping on this, but it’s true - we had little junk food, small portions, and we kids were out and about all day long, riding bikes, building forts, simply walking aimlessly for miles. Fat kids were very rare, maybe one in each class, poor devils.