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Soc Hist Med. 2001;14(1):79-106.

Body weight and self-control in the United States and Britain since the 1950s.

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  • 1All Souls College, Oxford, UK.


Body weight has risen in defiance of health and appearance norms. This is framed in terms of the problem of time-inconsistency and self-control. The social epidemics of overeating and slimming were driven by market forces and the psychology of eating: restrained eating was easily disinhibited by the stresses of new rewards. For men, the rise in body weight was associated with the decline of family eating and exposure to greater food variety. For women, the 'cult of slimming' was associated with mating and workplace competition, driven initially by adverse sex ratios. Food abundance made it difficult for rational consumers to conform with social norms.

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