It’s harder to stay slim now than it was in the 80’s

It’s no secret that many young adults today feel they were born in the wrong decade. Many resent their parents’ generation for the seemingly good deal they got in life: free or cheap university degrees, affordable property prices, the opportunity to rock a mullet hairstyle, no questions asked.

Andre Agassi Mullet

But it turns out adults of the 70s and 80s had yet another edge over members of Generation Y, at least when it comes to keeping the kilos off.

A study published recently in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found it’s harder for adults today to stay thin than it was 20 to 30 years ago, even if they eat the same number of calories and exercise just as much.

Sure, people are eating more now than they used to, but the study’s findings suggest weight gain is not as simple as eating more energy than you expend. “Weight management is actually much more complex than ‘energy in’ versus ‘energy out’,” said Jennifer Kuk, a professor of kinesiology and health science at Toronto’s York University and one of the study’s authors.

For the study, Professor Kuk and her colleagues examined the self-reported dietary data of 36,400 Americans between 1971 and 2008. They then compared it to the physical activity data available for 14,400 adults between 1988 and 2006, and were shocked by the findings: A person in 2006 who consumed the same number of calories, who ate similar amounts of protein and fat, and who exercised about the same as someone of the same age in 1988 had a BMI 2.3 points higher.

Put another way, people today – despite eating and exercising similarly – are 10 percent heavier than their 80s forebears. (Which may explain why the Aussie sportsmen and aerobics mavens of the 80s looked decidedly slimmer than their 21st century counterparts.)


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

So if people today aren’t eating more and moving less, why are they fatter?

The new research can’t answer that, but Professor Kuk and her team do have a few theories, such as increased exposure to hormone-altering chemicals; the rise in prescription medication like antidepressants, which have been linked to weight gain; changes to gut bacteria; higher levels of stress; and exposure to light at night, which can mess with sleep patterns. “Ultimately, maintaining a healthy body weight is now more challenging than ever,” said Professor Kuk.

Perhaps now is the perfect time for someone to invent a time travel machine. Sure, we wouldn’t have smartphones or the Internet, but we would have leg warmers and Buns of Steel…