To say the very least, millennials bear their fair share of scrutiny. Perhaps deservedly so. Perhaps not so much. Either way, the elder generation branding the upcoming generation “lazy” is nothing new, no? If anything, it’s a rite of passage. But according to a study published in the Obesity Research & Clinical Practice journal, the cards may, in fact, be empirically stacked against Gen Y when it comes to issues surrounding health and weight gain.
And the findings have nothing to do with lack of gumption. Quite the contrary.
The study—“Secular differences in the association between caloric intake, macronutrient intake and physical activity with obesity”—found that it’s significantly harder for today’s American adults to maintain the same weight levels as it was three-to-four decades ago. And this is specifically taking into account diet and exercise.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded study assessed the dietary habits of more than 36,000 American adults from 1971 to 2008. It also accounted for physical activity patterns among 14,000-plus adults from 1988 to 2006. Researcher Ruth Brown summarized the results in a York University press release.
“We observe that for a given amount of self-reported food intake, people will be about 10 per cent heavier in 2008 than in 1971, and about five per cent heavier for a given amount of physical activity level in 1988 than 2006,” she said. “These secular changes may in part explain why we have seen the dramatic rise in obesity.”
The researchers were quick to point out that this issue is more complicated than simply snacking less and biking more. Researcher Jennifer Kuk cited stress, pollutants, medication use, light exposure, evolution of genetics and even the timing of one’s food intake as reasons why maintaining a healthy weight is trickier than ever before.
These ideas may challenge the perceptions of many, as organic foods and exercise trends appear more ubiquitous than in years past. However, the study found that body mass indexes (BMIs) and total caloric and carbohydrate intakes increased 10 to 14 percent between 1971 and 2008. Conversely, physical activity frequencies did increase 47 to 120 percent across the board between 1988 and 2006. But when the data were juxtaposed, the researchers determined average BMIs were still greater among adults in the 2000s than in the 1980s.
This conclusion presents a bit of an ecological fallacy. To Kuk’s point, the relationship is more complicated than it appears. The increase in average BMIs among Americans has, in part, been spurred by other external stimuli, such as the well-documented spikes inprescription antidepressant use or red meat consumption. The York University researchers concede that further studies are required.
Confession time. No. 1, I am a millennial. No. 2, I was blessed with strong metabolism and a long, lanky frame. Still, I spend no shortage of energy when it comes to taking care of my body. I’ve maintained primarily vegan or vegetarian diets my entire adult life (a friend has endearingly called me the “sodium police” for years), and I’m an avid walker, runner, hiker and climber. My lifestyle choices come from a place of passion, not fear. But studies like this certainly help keep the coals burning beneath my heels, so to speak. Plus, I have friends who, despite doing all the right things, struggle to maintain a consistent weight level. They’re not lazy; they’re eating well, and they’re right alongside me on the hiking trails. What gives?
It’s no secret obesity remains a national epidemic, and that regular exercise is the best defense against a slew of serious health issues. So what’s behind this generational shift? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.