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Why it was easier to stay skinny in the 80s

The news just gets worse for Gen Y and Millennials.

Not only have they grown up with astronomical HECS debts, out-of-reach house prices and some of the most cut-throat job landscapes society has ever seen, one study has now found that it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did - even at the same food intake and exercise levels.

The 2015 study looked at the diets of 36,400 people between 1971 and 2008 and the physical activity data of 14,419 people between 1988 and 2006.

They grouped the data sets together by the amount of food and activity, age, and BMI. 

Here’s what they found: Today, any given person eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same quantities of protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher.

In other words, even if they followed the exact same diet and exercise plan, people today are about 10 per cent heavier than people were in the 1980s.

“Our study results suggest that if you are 40 years old now, you'd have to eat even less and exercise more than if you were a 40 year old in 1971, to prevent gaining weight,” Jennifer Kuk, a professor of kinesiology and health science at Toronto’s York University, said at the time. 

Lifestyle and environment, such as medication use, environmental pollutants, genetics, timing of food intake, stress, gut bacteria and even nighttime light exposure, were some of the factors at play that might also be making it harder for adults today to stay lean.

“Weight management is actually much more complex than just ‘energy in’ versus ‘energy out’,” Kuk said.

“It’s similar to saying your investment account balance is simply your deposits subtracting your withdrawals and not accounting for all the other things that affect your balance like stock market fluctuations, bank fees or currency exchange rates.”

Ultimately, maintaining a healthy body weight is now more challenging than ever.

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