The American standard of beauty has shifted to a thin-obsessed ideal inconsistent with healthy lifestyles, said a University of Virginia professor Tuesday at the St. Paul campus.
Glenn Gaesser, an exercise physiology professor and author of “Big Fat Lies,” spoke to 200 people about body-weight myths.
The professor began the discussion by asking audience members if body weight matters. He answered his own question and said: “Yes. It’s just how much does it really matter.”
Gaesser said healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
He debunked a Weight Watcher’s statement claiming obesity costs the country $1 billion annually — killing an estimated 280,000 people each year.
Studies on obesity deaths often fail to mention several other factors, such as fitness history or the use of weight-loss drugs. Being fat is not the only reason, he said.
Gaesser said several cultural pressures urge people to lose weight. Some shed pounds because of low self-esteem, others want to improve their health and longevity.
Height, weight and measurement averages of models, Miss Americas and centerfolds have progressively declined since the 1950s, he said.
“The first Miss America was 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds,” Gaesser said. “The average Miss America today is 5-foot-6, but 25 to 30 pounds less.”
Gaessar used two models to explain individual motivations for weight loss.
In the first model, “A Means to an End,” individuals diet to lose weight. Health improvements are lower priorities.
His second model focuses on fitness. Improved health is the ultimate goal when exercising and dieting.
“People are looking for a magic bullet that will make them thin,” he said.
In order to be considered healthy, Gaesser said one must exercise at least three days a week for 20 to 60 minutes per session.
He advised modifying diets to include more whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables — saturated fats should be avoided.
“People get hungry on weight-loss diets,” he said. “They can deal with it for a few weeks or a few months, but eventually they get tired of it.”
Amber Foley covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3213.