Diet blog: changing weight attitudes

Judith Wills / 02 March 2021

Diet expert Judith Wills looks at how our attitudes to weight have changed over the years.



Let’s face it, for over 99% of our existence on earth, the word obesity wasn’t even heard of because we hunted for what little food we could get, we used our feet to get around, we carried. Walking or running many miles every day was the norm, not a rare cause for celebration. So of course it would have been extraordinary for any of the sparse populations in our country - and for most countries in our world - to be overweight at all.

We naturally kept slim and fit without giving it a moment’s thought. Can you just imagine a caveman or woman, sitting round the open fire with the family, waiting for the wild pig to cook, looking down at their midriff and moaning because they’d got a pot belly?

Then in later times, a few lucky rich people (think Henry VIII) did manage the trick of getting themselves fat because of their privileged access to plenty of food and an indolent lifestyle. And poor, thin people would envy them. Because of their rarity and association with poshness, curves were in and sought after for a long while - until the skinny flappers of the early 20th century turned lean into a fashion statement. And thin has more or less been in, the shape to be, since.

But now, not so much. Now, people are apparently not bothered. Why? Because now to be overweight is normal. In the USA, a mere quarter of the adult population are not overweight – here, we’re heading that way. And this has happened across the Western world in less than a hundred years. A speck in time.

The problem is that, because overweight is normal, it is less and less likely with every passing year to be thought of as a problem. In twenty years’ time, we’ll sit round the supper table and discuss the complete weirdness of how people used to fat shame others.

As I’ve said before, obesity itself is not a disease (though some professionals disagree), but a consequence of modern life with its motor transport for all, its shops down every road packed with low-cost processed foods and snacks, its TV and online and indoor lifestyle. However, this obesity consequence leads to, or makes worse, many diseases (Covid-19 included) and disabilities and thus leads to a shorter lifespan (still not so short as most of our ancestors, pot-belly or not, it has to be said) for very many of us.

If nothing else, in the years to come our impending incredulity at the thought of how fatness was once thought of as wrong, will at least stop people like Strictly’s Shirley Ballas from going through misery and insecurity about body image. I recently read that – despite Shirley’s obvious fitness from years of ballroom dancing, and her perfectly fine body, as far as I can tell, she has spent years basically disliking her shape and her weight. First she got her breasts enlarged, then got the implants removed, then she admitted that in later life – she’s 60! - her weight had made her uncomfortable in her own skin, weighing herself everyday and being horrified at a few pounds increase.

“I’ve always struggled with my weight,” she said recently. “I’m constantly up and down – from a size 6 to a size 10...”

I feel so sorry for her that she has to think that way. Size 10, Shirley, is not big. It is not big at all. You look great. And the average UK size for a female is 16. And growing. And people are caring less and less, whatever their size. Middle ground, anyone? Seems like a plan to me, for the next thousand years or so.

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