Pandemic Pounds Have Added To U.S. Obesity––So Has Size Inflation

Photograph Source: Dylan Howell – CC BY 2.0

Many health experts have noted that the more “diet foods” people eat, the fatter they are actually getting. Why? Because they are still psychologically hooked on eating all day which is fine with Big Food. In fact it is the Big Food agenda.

The pronouncements of health officials preceded the Covid-19 pandemic in which over half of U.S. adults gained weight according to an American Psychological Association poll; two out of five gained an average of 29 pounds and ten percent gained more than 50 pounds.

According to the New York Times, the average American man (before Covid) weighed 194 pounds and average woman weighed an astounding 165 pounds. In the years 1976-1980, those figures were 172.2 pounds and 144.2, respectively.

Nor are pounds the only sign of the growing American adiposity: the average American woman in the 1950s had a 25 inch waist and today has a waist of 34 inches. Maybe that should be “waist.”

As people have gotten fatter, so have stadium seats, airplane seats, ambulances and even operating tables. Few notice because the effects are everywhere. Young people, who used to be primarily thinner than older people, are leading the obesity way says Cancer Research UK. They often outweigh their parents.

Size Inflation Enables Obesity

It is often said that Marilyn Monroe wore a Size 14 dress, a fact that is supposed to show that being “plump” used to be more acceptable than it is today. But it is just the opposite. Ms. Monroe rarely weighed as much as 120 and usually weighed between 115 and 118. Moreover, she had a 22 inch waist–2-3 inches less than women in the 1950s and 12 inches less than the average today–and 35 inch hips. Yes, the waist of today’s women is the size of what their hips used to be.

Not surprisingly, our growing girth is a big problem for the fashion industry because overweight people do not rush to buy clothes or take pleasure in wearing them. Nor do they appreciate size labels that make them feel fat. (Years ago shoe stores were said to leave the size off women’s shoes for the same reason.) Enter size inflation, sometimes called vanity sizing, with its fabricated denominations like Size Zero.

Size Zero is said to fit women who measure from 30-22-32 to 33-25-35 inches. But a little look at fashion history shows that those dimensions used to describe a Size 5! More shockingly, in the 1970s, those dimensions described a Size 10.

If anyone has a doubt about how size inflation has made people thinner without losing a pound, go to a resale shop and try to try on a “Size 7” from decades ago. Prepare to be demoralized.

Men don’t scour resale shops the way women tend to do but if they did they would likely be just as demoralized if they tried to try on the three-piece powder blue disco suit similar to the one John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever. Can a vest be left casually unbuttoned?

Baggy Hip Hop fashions, low riding pants that sit on the hips and stretchy yoga pants and leggings are also indicted as enabling Americans to balloon in size without realizing it because their clothes still fit. Once upon a time, our ancestors called elastic waistbands “the Devil’s Playground” for exactly that reason.

Beware the Big Food Agenda

A chilling documentary released a few years ago, Fed Up, narrated by Katie Couric, highlighted how the U.S. government capitulates to Big Food lobbies such as the sugar industry and followed the money involved in keeping people fat. Moreover, labs across the country ensure that such junk food is addictive. Finally, Big Food has launched aggressive campaigns, sanctioned by governments, to cast obesity as “lack of exercise” and not something they cause.

Obesity is not just about aesthetics and there is no such thing as “fit but fat.” People carrying excess weight are at greater risk of mortality, hypertension, high LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and many cancers says the CDC. The conditions increase the health care costs of fat people…and everyone else.

No one would smoke cigarettes because it made Big Tobacco money and kept medical industries thriving. Yet junk food-related obesity does a very similar thing. Moreover, no one is born fat or “naturally fat”–it is not a disability–though Big Food certainly doesn’t mind that thinking.

As Covid shutdowns end and people assess the Covid-19 weight damages and hit the gyms, will we see an improvement in national obesity? Not as long as Big Food’s processed, fattening junk food and its advertising are everywhere. In fact, obesity may increase as “food courts” reopen.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).