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Sunday Musings: Weighty Issues For Your Consideration…

This Sunday, I present stories about Weight Loss from both ends of the ‘life continuum’ which together will make you wonder why we consider certain ‘facts’ of weight control ‘just part of normal aging’. I also offer some conjectures about the language of ‘weight’ discussions…

Older Couple Walking - © blogs.extension.iastate.eduOlder folks who don’t accept the stereotype that it’s safe and normal to put on
a few extra pounds after entering retirement age are challenging an old,
entrenched idea that could be dangerous for them and their peers…

Most of us – regardless of age – are probably concerned about gaining weight, and letting healthy eating habits get lost in the confusion of the prevailing special circumstances surrounding COVID-19 social isolation and mandated behaviour changes…

It would be alright to adopt a basically sedentary lifestyle for a couple weeks, in which we ate extravagantly, exercised carelessly and generally ‘fall of the wagon’ with some good habits. But when it gets to be 6 or 9 months, and we’ve gained 20-30 pounds (10 to 20 kg) and for all intents and purposely exchanged our former active routine in favour of a ‘streaming’ lifestyle, what some of us call ‘normal for my age’ issues arise. I use this example because I personally can attest to its veracity.

“It’s only natural under the circumstances,” the doctor says, during your periodic telehealth medical appointment. “You’ll go back to your old routine and habits when the pandemic is over, and you’ll lose the weight. And remember, you’re not 20 anymore!”

My great and growing catalogue of nuisance ailments (many traditionally associated with advancing age) remind me constantly that I’m not 20 anymore. But the notion that I’ll just naturally go back to my normal weight is a trickier proposition.

‘It’s only normal’ – Not!

I’ve long accepted that the doctors and weight control experts are correct when they say, “It’s normal to pack on a few extra permanent pounds” when you segue into ‘retirement’. Until recently, I was secretly pleased that I hadn’t gone up a couple of dress sizes. But now, with the added pressure of pandemic stress and continued lack of the usual exercise, I’ve succumbed. But a new study by a team at the University of Warwick (UK) suggests that it’s not particularly normal to gain weight with advancing age. And it’s not healthy, either.

What they did

The team compared the weight performance of a group of folks over 60 who participated in a hospital-based weight loss program with a similar group who did not.

The hospital-based program used only lifestyle-based changes tailored to each individual patient, focusing on dietary changes, psychological support and encouragement of physical activity.

What they found

They found that the group in the program lost up to 7.3 percent over a period of 33 months, thus reducing their risk of overweight and obesity-induced co-morbidities including cardio-vascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety, osteoarthritis and general poor wellbeing.

The takeaway

Study Lead Author Dr. Thomas Barber of Warwick Medical School said: “Weight loss is important at any age, but as we get older we’re more likely to develop the weight-related co-morbidities of obesity. Many of these are similar to the effects of aging, so you could argue that the relevance of weight loss becomes heightened as we get older, and this is something that we should embrace.’

“Baby Fat:, ‘Skinny Teens’ not normal, either

The notion that carrying around a few extra pounds from the pre-school into the elementary school years is also considered normal. We even have a traditional name for it: “Baby Fat”. But researchers at University College London (UK) now say that the concept of Baby Fat as well as the stereotype of the ‘Skinny Teen are equally invalid, when we consider the overall effects of a ‘healthy’ weight on overall health.

What they did

Researchers studied the results of long-term surveys of British kids over various periods covering different decades from 1987 to 2015 to see how food-related behaviours had changed.

According to an abstract of the study results: “The adolescents were all asked questions about whether they were, or had been, trying to lose weight, whether they had dieted or exercised to lose weight, whether they perceived themselves to be underweight, about the right weight or overweight (which was compared to their actual height and weight measurements), and they filled out questionnaires that gauged depressive symptoms”

What they found

The researchers found that in 2015, 44 percent and 60 percent of all participants had dieted or exercised to lose weight, respectively, compared to 38 percent and 7 percent in 1986. The researchers say other evidence suggests that engagement in vigorous physical activity has remained relatively stable among adolescents over the past few decades.

While girls have consistently been more likely to diet to lose weight, the researchers found a greater increase over the years among boys, who were also becoming more likely to be trying to gain weight. Seems there’s increased pressure on the boys to be hulkier, hunkier more-macho than in the past – at least for adolescent boys.

The takeaway

Current Study Senior Author Dr. Praveetha Patalay said: “Societal pressures for girls to be thin have been around for decades, but body image pressures on boys may be a more recent trend.”

Lead Author Dr. Francesca Solmi said: “Our findings show how the way we talk about weight, health and appearance can have profound impacts on young people’s mental health, and efforts to tackle rising obesity rates may have unintended consequences.”

My Take

So… The stereotypes may all be wrong. Why? I think they’ve arisen and perpetuated themselves for the same basic reasons. First, the conditions being addressed by the stereotypical terms have been around for a long time and the notion of interventions is relatively recent. Except in extreme cases, kids have demonstrated that they’ll pretty much all outgrow their fat and skinny phases all by themselves, if encouraged to simply eat right and exercise reasonably.

Also, social pressures bombarding kids these days largely from advertising and celebrity examples, and secondarily by fashion magazines and the like for girls and sports magazines for the boys, should be taken into account by weight control counsellors when advising kids how to set and achieve healthy goals.

~ Maggie J.