Fat is the new normal – good news for society but bad news for our health

27 May 2015

Hollywood stars and top models may be getting larger, but accepting that beauty comes in varying shapes and sizes might not be good for our health, warns Professor Alice Sullivan of the UCL Institute of Education.

Commenting in this weekend’s Sunday Times (May 24, pg.18), Professor Sullivan explains that this growing tolerance of obesity in popular culture could mean that members of the general public are becoming increasingly unaware of weight problems.

Professor Sullivan has studied the body mass index (BMI) of almost 10,000 men and women being followed by the 1970 British Cohort Study.

She found that more than two thirds of British men were either overweight (or obese at age 42. In contrast, just under half of women the same age were overweight or obese.

“People judge norms in weight according to the size of the people they see around them every day. Our eyes have become accustomed to seeing fatter people so they no longer even register as such,” Professor Sullivan says.

“The trouble is that now nearly half of women and 68 per cent of men born in 1970 are obese or overweight so the majority of us don’t realise we are actually over the weight we should be.”

Members of the Millennium Cohort Study, children born in the year 2000-01, are even more at risk of health problems linked to obesity. One in five children born in the UK at the beginning of the new century was obese at age 11, and a further 15 per cent were found to be overweight.

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