Here's a sneak preview into this Monday's issue of Food, Nutrition & Science, a special issue dedicated to women.
Fewer women are dieting, according to a new study from NPD Group. NPD has been tracking Americans’ dieting habits for three decades, and this most recent study finds dieting to be on the decline, with women leading the trend. In 1992, 34% of women were on a diet; today that number drops to 23%.
The question is why? With more women in the workplace, and many taking over the role of the main breadwinner – a recent Prudential survey found that more than half of women (53%) are now the breadwinners in their household – women may have less time to think about things like dieting.
Role models are changing too. Celebrities like Kelly Clarkson, Adele, Christina Hendricks and Jessica Simpson are celebrated for their curves. Conde Nast and Vogue magazines recently pledged to only work with models with a healthy body image. And last year, Israel boldly passed a law requiring both male and female models in their country to have a BMI of at least 18.5 (anything under that is considered underweight; anything 25 or over is considered overweight).
Also, Americans’ attitudes toward being overweight are evolving. Whereas more than half of Americans found thin people to be more attractive in 1985, only 23% of Americans feel that way in 2012. With 68% of American adults overweight or obese and 500 million people obese globally, it could be that we are simply becoming more accustomed to, and therefore more accepting of, people that are overweight and obese – which may not be a good thing.
“Attitudes are changing because more of us are overweight. It’s hard for some people to measure the benefits of dieting and it’s hard for people to change their behavior forever and keep the weight off once they’ve lost it. People who start a diet don’t always follow through,” says Harry Balzer, Vice President of The NPD Group. “We need to start talking about these issues from a more global health perspective.”
Overall, about 20% of adults report being on a diet, and this is down from a peak of 31% in 1991. Dieters are also giving up on their diets more quickly, says Balzer. In 2004, 66% of all dieters said they were on a diet for at least six months. In 2012, that number dropped to 62%. Yet Balzar says that there is a healthy market for dieters. Sixty percent of Americans still say they want to loose 20 pounds.
“The word ‘diet’ may have become a negative word, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t dieting or thinking about losing weight. Twenty percent of us still say we’re on a diet, and that’s still a big number. But perhaps this is a reminder that we don’t have to talk about being on a diet to talk about or care about our health,” says Balzer.
Jennifer Shea Rawn, Health and Nutrition Expert for SUPERVALU®, agrees. “Women want strong, healthy toned bodies – that feel good and look good and that can lift multiple shopping bags while carrying a toddler. A strict extreme diet doesn’t fuel the body for everyday household tasks or workouts. The key is fueling the body with the right fuel in the right amounts. Women, given the negative connotation of the word diet, may be choosing to categorize the journey to weight loss as a positive healthy lifestyle change versus ‘diet’,” she says.
Check back next month for more on women and dieting from guest columnist Jennifer Shea Rawn MS, MPH, RD.