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Rise in Health Consciousness: From the Ideal to the Paradox

I. Prologue/Introduction

A. Trying To Achieve a “Better” Body…

A look at America’s most prominent celebrities and athletes over the past 5 decades provides a general sense for the ideal body image.

1. (1950s)

            a. Marilyn Monroe           

            -Full, curvaceous body

                        -Beauty standards focus on large breasts

            b. Mickey Mantle -- 5 ft.11 in., 195 lbs. (http://www.themick.com)

                        -536 home runs

            -A slugger in his own right

2. (1960s)

            a. Model “Twiggy” -- 5 ft. 7 in., 90 lbs (http://iml.jou.ufl.edu)

                        -Shift in standard of models to excessively thin

                        -Average model weighs 8% less that average American woman                                    

           b. Bill Russell -- 6 ft. 10 in., 220 lbs. (www.cuttington.org)

                        -Center for Boston Celtics

            -Most dominant player in the game won 11 championships

                        -Skill and technique as his weapon

3. (1970s-1980s)

            -For women, “the look” shifts from thin to toned

                        -Exercise becomes a more popular activity

            -Average model weighs 23% less than average American woman            

4. (1990s)

            a. Kate Moss -- 5 ft. 7 in., 105 lbs. (www.supermodelguide.com)

                        -Ribs exposed, eyes sunken, arms and neck emaciated

            -Her success as a model proves that thin is still very much in

            b. Pamela Anderson -- 5 ft. 7in., 105 lbs. (www.supermodelguide.com)

                        -Small waist, disproportionate breast size implants

 5. The Modern Athlete

            a. Mark McGuire -- 6 ft. 5 in., 250 lbs. (www.cnnsi.com)

                        -Far more bulked up than players in the past

            -580 home runs

            b. Shaquille O’Neill – 7 ft. 1 in., 315 lbs. (http://cbs.sportsline.com)

                        -Today’s most dominant center, 3 championships and counting

                        -Use of brute force to earn his points

6. (2000)

            -“Plus-size” models and actresses begin to make a comeback

            -Still, the majority of women in Hollywood appear more on the “twiggy” side

            (E.g.: Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow) 

II. The Ideal

A. Government Legislation:

1.       1956:  President’s Council on Youth Fitness

2.       1960:  President’s Council on Physical Fitness

3.       1966:  Presidential Award for Physical Fitness

4.       1983:  May is “National Physical Fitness and Sports Month”

5.       1990:  Nutrition Labeling and education Act

6.       1994:  Dietary Supplement Health and Education act

B.  Fitness

1.1980 to the present: Sale of home gym equipment and health club memberships vastly expands

a.     E.g.: Retail sales of home fitness equipment grow 22% in 1988 alone

2.  Experts emphasize fitness:

                                                                                     a.      Scientific findings that exercise cuts heart attack risk in 1980

                                                                                     b.      1989 study finding exercise linked to overall health

3.      In 1989 study, survey finds 78% of Americans say they exercise regularly (an increase from 73% in 1981) (NB: see paradox section for actual percentage of Americans exercising)

4.      Exercise and Fitness as a “fad” industry

                                                                                                                         a.      1987: implementation of computers in exercise equipment

                                                                                                                         b.      Fad examples

i.         Late ‘80s and early ‘90s: Jane Fonda videos

ii.       ~1999: Tae Bo (form of aerobic kickboxing popularized by Billy Blanks)

iii.      Late 1990s: Spinning (indoor stationary cycling program created in 1980s by world-class cyclist Jonathan Goldberg—Johnny G—emphasizes heart rate for intense workout)

iv.     ~2001: Pilates (An exercise system focused on improving flexibility and strength for the total body without building bulk.  First brought to New York City by creator Joseph Pilates in 1926, gained popularity with celebrities in late 1990s)

C. Diet

1.                   1940s

a.  Background:

i.  Dieting was less prevalent than in the past during WWII.

ii.  Magazines printed articles about how to cook during a food shortage rather than how to lose weight.

2.                   1950s

a.  Successful Innovations:

i.  “Food combining”à the way in which you combine proteins and carbs affects the speed of digestion.

ii.  Metrecalà the first high-energy, high-protein beverage (like today’s Slim fast).

3.                   1960s

a.  Successful Innovations:

i.  Weight Watchersà a club/ support group based on healthy eating and lifestyle.

ii.  Artificial sweeteners

4.                   1970s

a.  Successful Innovations:

i.  The Beverly Hills Dietà although this diet made the false claim that eating pineapple before every meal would break down fat, it was successful in that it was a low-calorie plan.

5.                   1980s

a.  Improving understanding:

i.  Advancements in science and nutrition made it clear that limiting calorie intake was the right way to lose weight. 

ii.  Fiber was also recognized as “good for you” for the first time.

b.  Successful Innovations:

i.  The F-Planà promoted eating high fiber as a way to get the body healthier and working more smoothly.

ii.  The Rosemary Conley Hip and Thigh Dietà advocated low-calorie foods and some exercise.

iii.  Slim fast Shakesà nutritious shakes replace two meals per day

6.                   1990s

a.  Improving understanding:

i.  Understanding of nutrition was much better than it had been in the past.

ii.  Low-fat joined low-calorie as an obsession.

b.  Successful Innovations:

i.  The Cambridge Dietà a consultant provides individually recommended array of soups and meal-replacing bars and shakes.

ii.  The Atkins Dietà a high-protein, low-carb diet.

7.                   2001

a.  Improving understanding:

i.  Evidence suggests that diets do not work in the long-run, and people focus on a healthier, exercise-based lifestyle.

ii.  There is a changing focus away from dieting with a goal of being skinny to dieting with a goal of having a healthy body.

b.  Successful Innovations:

i.  The Zone Dietà For a daily fee, three zone meals and two snacks are delivered to one’s door.  The diet focuses on balancing fat, protein, and carbohydrate intakes.

ii.  Jenni Rivett’s Jenergy Planà Focused on education for life, this diet teaches healthy eating and muscle/strength training in order to keep metabolisms high.

iii.  Slimming supplementsà may be successful when combined with a healthy, low-calorie diet. 

III. The Paradox

A. Government Legislation 2001:  Surgeon General says that obesity and overweight are reaching staggering high levels.

B. Fitness

      1.  Americans spend billions of dollars on equipment and memberships that go unused

2.      While Americans are becoming more health-conscious and see the need for physical fitness in a healthy lifestyle, Americans are becoming more obese.

3.      ACTUAL percentage of Americans who do “real exercise to build the heart” is only 10 to 20%. (WSJ “Good Intentions Prop Up Fitness Sales” 10/31/1989 by Carrie Dolan)

C. Diet

1.                   1940s

a.  Unsuccessful Fads

i.  The Nine-Day-Wonder-Dietà a starvation diet.

2.                   1950s

a.  Misconceptions

i.  Those who dieted had little knowledge of nutrition, so they tended to rely on fad diets

b.  Unsuccessful Fads:

i.  The Banana Dietà eating lots of bananas was intended to satisfy sugar cravings.

ii.  The Oil Dietà a “miracle mixture” of oils was supposed to raise metabolism, but it only made dieters sick.

iii.  RDXà called the “full-stomach-pill,” it did not work.

3.            1960s

a.  Misconceptions

There was still little knowledge of nutrition, so women continued to experiment with strange diets

b.  Unsuccessful Fads:

i.  The Bread-and-Butter Dietà Based on eating only bread and butter.

ii.  Amphetaminesà mean to speed up metabolism; it sometimes caused nervous disorders

iii. Ayds slimming tabletsà intended to satiate one’s appetite, but often made people crave sweets

4.            1970s

a.  Misconceptions:

There was still little understanding of nutrition, so there was hope that some kind of magical formula to speed metabolism and/or shed pounds could be found.

b.  Unsuccessful Fads:

Digestion Theoriesà Included absurd ideas such as the belief that green beans cut longwise as opposed to widthwise would slow digestion

5.            1980s

a.  Unsuccessful Fads:

i.  The Grapefruit Dietà essentially a starvation diet

ii.  The Egg Dietà did not work, but left many constipated.

6.            1990s

a.  Unsuccessful Fads:

i.  The Cabbage Soup Dietà rapid weight-loss is supposed to be achieved by eating cabbage soup and low-calorie, high-fiber foods

ii.  The Vitaline Dietà proposed that dieters could eat every fifteen minutes as long as they were hungry


D. Eating Disorders: With changes in ideal body image that don’t fit most people’s natural body type, many women and men have turned to disordered eating as a solution.


1. Anorexia - associated with a distorted body image that may be caused by a mental disorder. Extreme reluctance to eat and inadequate caloric intake result in severe weight loss.

2. Bulimia - an illness characterized by uncontrolled episodes of overeating usually followed by self-induced vomiting or other purging (http://www.health.yahoo.com)

3. History

-Eating disorders can be traced far into history

-Once thought of as a “benign” group of psychiatric illnesses

               -Accurate estimates of women suffering from disorders are unavailable until recently

-Diseases are associated with a high degree of secrecy and shame

*1983, singer Karen Carpenter dies of heart failure due to anorexia

-Disorders begin to receive a high degree of media attention

-Now they are seen as life threatening

                        -Anorexia and bulimia described in the DSM III in 1980

-Study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders claims that eating disorders have, in fact, been on the rise among American women since the 1930s

                        -Also states that the # of girls age 10 to 14 has increased at an accelerated rate

                         each decade since the 1950s (www.ivillagehealth.com)

-Eating disorders among men have also been on the rise

-Todays estimated prevalence:


0.5-3.7% suffer from anorexia nervosa

1.1-4.2% suffers from bulimia nervosa

-Males & Females

2-5% suffer from binge eating disorder

4.5% females, 0.4% males report bulimia in first year of college



4.  The big question: have eating disorders really been on the rise or has our increased awareness of the illnesses been the main factor?

-By looking at the ideal body image projected by celebrities over the past 5 decades, it appears that eating disorders truly have bee on the rise

 E.  Medical Technology

1.  Why use technology? “Quick fix”

2.  Diet Drugs

a.     1973 Pondimin (Fenfluramin “Fen-Phen”) & Phentermine 1959

b.     Stimulating drug diets

c.     1996 Redux

d.     1999 Orlistat (Xenical)

e.     Dexatrim

f.        Meridia

3.  Surgical Procedures

a. Liposuction

b. Tummy Tucks

4.  Dangers & Risks

a.  Medical Problems

b.  FDA action taken

 IV. Epilogue/Conclusion

A. McDonaldization and Obesity

            1. History of Fast Food

            2. McDonaldization Defined

            3. Fast Food and Obesity

                        a. Obesity defined

                        b. Health Facts

                        c. Prevalence of Fast Food in America

                                    i.  Ads Directed at Children

                                    ii. Fast Food in Schools, Hospitals, Chechnya

B. Other Disastrous Effects

1.  Environment

2.  Animals

3.  Independent restaurants


C. Changes in the Works

                        1. Subway

                                    a. Jared

                                    b. Other imitators

                        2. Class Action Suits

                                    a. Fast Food Responding to Allegations

                        3. Have It Your Way

                                    a. Grass roots movements

                                    b. McLibel.com


Review questions:
1. How has the "ideal" image changed from 1945 to present? Discuss America's most prominent celebrities and athletes over the past 5 decades and analyze the ideal body image.
2. Discuss the government legislation concerning health and fitness.
3. What are some "quick fixes" Americans have used to improve their appearances?
4. Discuss and explain the "paradoxes" concerning health consciousness.

Writing Assignment:


Select one aspect of health consciousness and analyze the ideal and paradox using related readings and links.




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