What a Coincidence: Our ‘Ideal’ Weight Is Rising in Tandem With Our Actual Weight

In the chowhounding season that begins on Thanksgiving and runs through New Year’s Eve, consumers will rebut the metaphorical claim that the economy has everybody “tightening their belts.” A Gallup poll fielded in the middle of last month finds excessive weight continues to beset many Americans. Given their girth, it wouldn’t take much unmetaphorical belt-tightening before people started passing out en masse.

The survey found female respondents weighing in at an average of 160 pounds, up from 153 pounds in 2001 — “a gain of nearly a pound a year,” as Gallup tactlessly notes in its analysis of the data. The men now weigh 194 pounds, vs. 189 pounds in 2001. The gain by men mostly came early in the decade, while the gain by women mostly occurred in the past two years.

Given figures like those above, it’s unsurprising that a majority of people surveyed (59 percent) said they’d like to lose weight. Age is a factor, with 65 percent of the 30-49-year-olds and the same proportion of the 50-64s saying they’d like to lose weight, vs. 55 percent of the 65-plus cohort and 41 percent of the 18-29-year-olds.

Of course, wanting to lose weight and actually doing something about it are two different things. The percentages of people who are “seriously” trying to shed pounds are far lower in each age bracket. Eighteen percent of the poll’s 18-29-year-olds said they’re seriously trying to lose weight, as did 34 percent of the 30-49s, 36 percent of the 50-64s and 26 percent of those 65-plus. Overall, 30 percent are seriously trying. Though studies have shown men at least as likely as women to be overweight, many more women than men say they’re making a serious effort to slim down (38 percent vs. 22 percent).

In light of their weight gains during this decade, will Americans now have a tougher time making it to their “ideal” weight? Actually, no — because they’ve adopted the expedient of ratcheting their ideal weight upward in tandem with their real weight. When Gallup’s 2001 poll asked women to cite their ideal weight, the responses averaged out to 137 pounds. In the new poll, the figure bulked up to 140 pounds. Likewise, the ideal figure for men has risen from 177 then to 180 in the current poll. Easy as pie, eh?