Did the Obesity Epidemic Start in the 1950s?

Angela Jenkins

| 2 min read

Who is to blame for the obesity epidemic? New research is pointing the finger towards reproductive-age women. That’s right, what women eat prior to becoming pregnant and throughout their pregnancy and how they raised their babies is thought to be the reason children grow up to become obese. It is believed that this may have started with parents of children born in the 1950s.
Why the ’50s? Consider these facts:
  • Women smoked during pregnancy: Nicotine interrupts the body processes that regulate appetite, metabolic rate and fat storage.
  • Breast-feeding wasn’t glamorized or encouraged: Formula-fed babies have a higher risk for becoming obese, research finds.
  • Weight restriction during pregnancy: Doctors recommended that expectant women gain as little as 10 pounds. This restricted nutrition, programming the baby to make up for lost time by overeating.
  • Women had multiple pregnancies close together: Babies born close together have decreased nutrition during gestation. This can permanently program their metabolism to become overweight.
Add these facts to a sedentary lifestyle and as the research suggests, this is a recipe for obese kids growing up in the 1980s (babies of baby boomers)

On the Other Hand

In theory this makes sense to me but for some reason, I can’t shake the skepticism I am feeling. I fall into the category of a child of baby boomers; my mother smoked while she was pregnant with me and I was born at 9 pounds even. I have never had a weight issue in my life.
This makes me wonder about these other facts of mothers raising children between the 1950s and 1970s. In particular:
  • Children were served healthy, balanced meal most nights
  • Portions were much smaller
  • There were vastly fewer fast food restaurants
  • Eating out was a treat, not a necessity
  • Moms typically stayed at home, so they had more time to cook healthy meals
I guess as with most things, it is all subjective and individual. I am interested to read about more research that is being done to further support these findings.
What is your take on this? Are 1950s-era mothers and the doctors who advised them to blame for their children being obese?
Resource: Los Angeles Times Photo credit: Patrick Q

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