It Was Easier to Maintain a Healthy Weight 30 Years Ago, Says New Study

Research over the course of decades finds Americans are having a harder time maintaining a healthy weight

It’s no secret that across much of the world—and especially in the U.S.—people have a hard time maintaining a healthy weight. Researchers know that diet plays a big role in that and exercise plays a part, but recent research suggests there’s something else to the equation that has nothing to do with calorie intake or expenditure. 

A new study published in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that adults today have a harder time maintaining a healthy weight than than adults 20 to 30 years ago did—even when their diet and exercise levels were the same.

After studying dietary and physical activity data over the course of decades, researchers found “a given person, in 2006, eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same macronutrients like protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher. In other words, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans,” wrote The Atlantic

Researchers can’t be sure what the exact cause is yet, but they have a few ideas. According to an interview with The Atlantic, the researchers think the extra weight could be due to a number of things that have changed in the past few decades. For example, humans are exposed to more chemicals (think: pesticides), which could be altering hormones or another possible explanation could be the prevalence of prescription drugs, some of which have been shown to cause weight gain. A third explanation is that gut bacteria has changed over the years, likely due to antibiotics and growth hormones in the meat Americans are eating.

While there are a few possible answers, more research is needed to find the definitive answer. What this study does highlight, though, is that it is harder now to maintain a healthy weight than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but it’s just as important to our health.

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