Report: In America, Fat is the New 'Normal'

America’s collectively growing waistline has made it more “socially acceptable” for people, especially women, to carry a few extra pounds, a new report says.

Researchers from Florida State University and Federal Reserve Bank of Boston argue that this “acceptance” has fueled the ballooning weight of the population as the perception of what is considered a normal body size changes.

“This is a social force that we are trying to document because the rise in obesity has occurred so rapidly over the past 30 years,” said FSU assistant professor of economics Frank Heiland, in a news release from the university. “Medically speaking, most agree that this trend is a dangerous one because of its connection to diabetes, cancer and other diseases. But psychologically, it may provide relief to know that you are not the only one packing on the pounds.”

Heiland and Federal Reserve economist Mary Burke authored the paper, "Social Dynamics of Obesity," using a mathematical model of the impact of economic, biological and social factors on aggregate body weight distribution.

Heiland and Burke studied body weights among American women ages 30 to 60 from 1976 to 2000. Using national health data, they found that the weight of the average woman increased by 20 pounds, or 13.5 percent, during that period.

During that time, there was disproportionate growth among the most obese women whose weights increased a “hefty” 18.2 percent, from 258 to 305 pounds, the two said.

The researchers said the “desired” weights of women have also changed over the years. In 1994, for example, the average woman said she weighed 147 pounds but wanted to weigh 132 pounds. By 2002, the average woman weighed 153 pounds but wanted the scales to register 135 pounds, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.