Given the enormous popularity of wellness vacations, fitness trackers, and apps that help you stay in shape, you would think that Millennials would be the healthiest and most active generation ever. But a new UK study seems to indicate that quite the opposite is true.
According to an analysis by Cancer Research UK, 70% of British people born in the early 1980s to mid-90s are going to be dangerously overweight before they hit the ages of 35 to 44. In comparison, only 50% of Baby Boomers were excessively heavy by the time they reached middle age. If the trend continues, Millennials will be the heaviest generation since the records began.
According to study experts, one of the main issues with the eating habits of Millennials is they tend to follow diet trends (many of which have little no scientific backing) as opposed to maintaining a healthy, consistent diet.
“Millennials are known for following seemingly healthy food trends, but nothing beats a balanced diet,” Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy University of Stirling, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKTAS) and Cancer Research UK, told BBC. “Eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and other fibre filled foods like whole grains, and cutting down on junk food is the best way to keep a healthy weight.”
Many health experts also argue that the popularity of the “fat acceptance” movement is posing dangerous health risks. They would argue that, while body positivity is important for mental health, and while it’s a sign of progress that we’ve expanded our ideas of what a “beautiful” body looks like beyond a man who is tall and muscular and a woman who is petite and thin, it’s also important to remember that obesity is a serious condition that leads to a lot of health problems, and not a statement on body image.
The concern that the fat acceptance movement has backfired somewhat by undercutting the health risks of a high BMI is also prevalent on this side of the Atlantic.
A 2010 study by Mary A. Burke, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston who studies social norms, found that a growing number of overweight adults consider themselves to be “about right.” Last year, the same team of researchers found that fewer adults who were obese or overweight were trying to get rid of their excess fat. Additional research led her to quite bluntly state, in a recent JAMA article, that “individuals who do not believe they are overweight, or who view obesity in a positive light, are less likely to seek treatment for weight loss.”
In America, obesity has doubled among adults (20 and older) and and tripled among youth (3 to 19) since the 1970s. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) (2009-2010), approximately 69% of adults in America are overweight or obese.
Certainly, a good portion of the blame for the fact that obesity is at an all-time high is the role played by technology; thanks in part to apps like Seamless, people are eating take-out more than ever, while spending a lot of time sitting on the couch, watching Netflix or flipping through their phone.
But arguably an even greater issue is the way we’ve accepted obesity as the new normal, as well as the fact that the number of people aware of the dangers of being obese is shockingly low. The Cancer Research UK study found that only 15% of people were aware that obesity increases your risk of at least 13 types of cancer, and that it’s second only to smoking in causing the disease.
“There is a danger that being overweight is becoming normalised, as we know that many people struggle to recognize obesity in themselves, and often are unable to see when their child is overweight,” Professor Russell Viner, from the Royal College of Pediatrics, and Child HealthKnowledge, told BCC. “Knowledge of the links between cancer and smoking have driven smoking rates down dramatically amongst our young people. We need the same recognition of the dangers of obesity.”
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