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Opinion: Moderation for this Christmas season

The Christmas season is here. It’s December. Cold weather is here or just ahead. The diet that we’ve been fighting for the past several months is no longer an issue. We won’t be seen in beachwear for another six months. And, of course, as Jack Frost makes his presence known, some people think that it’s a good idea to put on a little extra weight in order to keep warm. But that may be a throw-back to a time when people had to get off the couch in order to change the channel on the TV.

Winter health

Instead of putting on extra weight, the best thing that we can do to ensure winter well-being is to get an injection of influenza vaccine. Each year, the formula for the vaccine changes slightly in order to combat the strain or strains of flu that scientists think will most likely be circulating. So, the shot is never perfect, but it offers the best protection possible, given the state of epidemiological knowledge. And, if you haven’t already been inoculated, you can get both the flu shot and your COVID booster for the Omicron variant at the same time. But, of course, none of that, as important as it is, addresses the weight problem.

The thing about weight, here in the third decade of the twenty-first century, is that we’ve forgotten what slender people we were when our life expectancy was steadily on the rise. Watch a few old movies on cable or a streaming service. Remember Abbot and Costello? Costello was the “fat” one. He probably won a LARGE T-shirt.

Recently, the original (1956) version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was showing on Comcast. Toward the beginning of the movie, Dr. Bennell is called to the home of Miles and Becky Belicec, where he views an inert, featureless humanoid that is a double for Miles. Becky asks Dr. Bennell, “How tall would you say that thing is?” Dr. Bennell responds, “About five foot ten.” And, asks Becky, “How much does it weight?” Bennell says, “Average, about 140 pounds.” Miles exclaims, “I’m five, ten and 140 pounds.”

Now, let’s use the formula to determine the body-mass index (BMI) of the “average” Miles. BMI = weight in pounds times 703 divided by height in inches squared. So, 140 x 703 = 98,420, divided by 4900 (70 inches squared) = 20.0857. BMI between 19.0 and 24.9 is “normal,” and Miles would be on the low end of the normal spectrum. He’d probably have a 31” waist. That would be true in 1956 and in 2022.

2022 CDC data for adults

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), today the average American man is 69 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds. Here’s the BMI computation: 200 (weight) times 703 = 140,600, divided by 4,761 (69 inches squared) = 29.6316. BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 is overweight. So, the average adult American male is an eyelash short of being obese (30.0 to 34.9). Today, the most commonly ordered sizes of t-shirts are L and XL, but quantities for XXL and XXXL have been steadily increasing. If you order any clothes online from Japan or China (or even Europe), be sure to check the size chart for “American Size” because clothes made in other countries are usually smaller than those made for the American (especially the U.S.) market. The average adult American male now has a waist that is 40.5 inches.

In 1956, Marilyn Monroe was idolized by the American public. She was five foot five with a 22-inch waist, about 4 inches less than the average adult American woman of that era. Using data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), today’s average adult woman is five-foot, three-and-a-half inches tall and weighs 171 pounds.

Here’s the BMI calculation: 171 times 703 = 120,213, divided by 403.225 (63.5 squared) = 29.81. BMI between 19.0 and 24.9 is normal. BMI between 25 and 29.9 is overweight. BMI above 30.0 is obese. So, today’s average woman is half an eyelash shy of being obese. And the waist of today’s average woman is 38.7 inches, or nearly 17 inches bigger than Marilyn Monroe’s. But, to be more realistic, the average adult American woman in 1956 had a 26-inch waist, a bit more than one foot smaller than now.

Pigging out for the holidays

Eighty or more years ago, it was perfectly acceptable — in fact, it was expected — to “pig out” during the winter holiday season. People could afford to put on the extra pounds, and the weight would stay on, for the most part, during the cold winter months. But when spring came, people started going outdoors again, walking. In cities, they walked to stores and public transportation; on farms and ranchland, they did their chores. Whatever the circumstance, they worked off those extra pounds.

But now, we live in a different world, and we are different people. Once we make the decision to lose those extra pounds, we join a gym or we buy whatever “miracle” weight-loss device or diet regime happens to be advertised on TV. The gym only works if we go on a regular basis and do the appropriate exercises. The diet only works if we don’t cheat. That chocolate-chip cookie that we eat at 3:00 in the afternoon contains 200 calories. And most of the gadgets that are advertised on TV are ineffective at best and scams at worst.

So, the smart thing to do during the upcoming holiday season is to eat and drink in moderation. Keep in mind that the weight that is put on when the weather is cold will not easily come off as our section of the globe warms. And last year’s beach wear may be a bit embarrassing when July comes around.

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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He is available for talks to classes or civic groups about his Nov. 12 column on world population growth. He may be contacted at


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