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Fat is the new normal, FSU researcher says

heir perceptions of appropriate body weight. Given that these changes in perception may come about gradually, Heiland and Burke suggest the nations battle of the bulge may extend into the future.

Heiland and Burke studied body weights among American women in the 30- to 60-year-old age bracket from 1976 to 2000. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, they found that the weight of the average woman increased by 20 pounds, or 13.5 percent, during that period. There was disproportionate growth among the most obese women as the 99th percentile weight increased a hefty 18.2 percent, from 258 to 305 pounds.

The researchers also looked at self-reports of womens real weights and desired weights. In 1994, the average woman said she weighed 147 pounds but wanted to weigh 132 pounds. By 2002, the average woman weighed 153 pounds but wanted the scales to register 135 pounds, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The fact that even the desired weight of women has increased suggests there is less social pressure to lose weight, Heiland said, citing a previous study that 87 percent of Americans, including 48 percent of obese Americans, believe that their body weight falls in the socially acceptable range.

While it seems thinness is increasingly idealized in popular culture -- images of waif-like models and stick-thin celebrities are everywhere -- there is a gap between the cultural imagery and the weights that most people consider acceptable for themselves and others, according to Heiland.

Biological forces also play a role in the rise of obesity. An additional pound of body weight is more likely to be fat, which does not metabolize calories nearly as well as muscle tissue, Heiland explained. Therefore, any increase in calorie consumption -- say, one more cookie each day -- leads to greater weight gain among an initially heavi
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Contact: Frank Heiland
fheiland@fsu.edu
850-644-7083
Florida State University
6-Aug-2007


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