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Comparing todays women to women of the 1950s

Share this article Share But our vital statistics don't just carry implications for how we look - they are crucial to our health.

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Here we reveal how the changing British figure has affected women's wellbeing, in good ways and bad. It's partly down to nutrition - a better and more plentiful diet, explains Bernard Harris, professor of the history of social policy at Southampton University.

But, more surprisingly, our increased height reflects the lessening demands of the environment. Now, with warmer homes, better medicine and improved sanitation, our energy - significantly in childhood - can be devoted to growth.

There is also the cleanliness of our environment to consider. Antibiotics did not become commonplace until the mid-Fifties. If you suffer repeated infections, you use up energy fighting them off, while you may also feel less like eating. Getting taller is probably a good thing in terms of our longevity, believes Professor Harris: In the Forties, Britons derived 32 per cent of their calories from fat - not far off the 33 per cent recommended; today a whopping 40 per cent of our diet is fat.

And at nearly 500g a week, we eat twice as much sugar as we used to. We also consume more processed and junk food. One of the problems is that these often rely on corn syrup as a flavouring and cheap preservative.

The Crazy Differences Between 1950's Housewives And The Women Of Today

And, as nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky explains, when we metabolise this form of sugar, it doesn't trigger the production of hormones that help regulate appetite and fat storage. We're also drinking more alcohol, which is highly calorific. By comparison, women in 1949 were slimmer because their diet centred on vegetables and complex carbohydrates, which are digested slowly, keep blood sugar levels stable and are filling. This meant they could eat more carbohydrates than we do today - without putting on weight.

According to the Medical Research Council, families consumed 55 per cent of calories as carbohydrates - the figure today is down to 45 per cent we now eat about half the potatoes and a third of the bread typically consumed in the Forties. It's not just a case of what was being eaten: It's been estimated that Fifties woman burned more than 1,000 calories a day doing her everyday activities such as housework compared with 556 today.

As Ken Fox, professor comparing todays women to women of the 1950s exercise and health science at the University of Bristol, points out, we started to become more sedentary in the Fifties. Women in 1949 were slimmer because their diet centred on vegetables and complex carbohydrates 'It was in this period that active lifestyles began to decline and car ownership started to increase,' he says. Also, there were more attractive sedentary activities - especially when TV came along.

Diet and lack of exercise also explain our expanding waistlines. Between 1993 and 2007, the number of women in the UK with waists of more than 35in rose from 26 per cent to 42 per cent. The problem is the visceral fat that forms around the organs, many of which are found in the abdomen. Although visceral fat is linked to genetic factors, a diet high in saturated fat, and not exercising, are also risk factors.

Being heavier than previous generations is not necessarily a problem if our bodies are in proportion. The fact that women are now taller means that today the average woman's Body Mass Index BMIwhich is linked to her risk of heart disease and other conditions, is in fact slightly lower than Fifties woman.

And both are in the 'healthy' range today's average BMI is 24. As Professor Harris explains: Since 1950, cancer deaths have risen from 17 per cent to 25 per cent of all deaths.

And while treatment has improved survival in many cases, incidence is still rising.

Comparing todays women to women of the 1950s

Obesity can also damage joints and make recovery from any illness more difficult for the body. The other issue, whatever their weight, is women's larger waistlines compared with 60 years ago. A large waistline can almost double your risk of dying prematurely even if your BMI is within the 'normal' range, according to a study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine.

  • It's not just a case of what was being eaten;
  • Heart disease kills one in six women about 94,000 each year;
  • As Professor Harris explains;
  • Here we reveal how the changing British figure has affected women's wellbeing, in good ways and bad;;;
  • Professor Michael Baum, an expert in breast cancer and professor emeritus of surgery at University College hospital London, explains:

This found the risk was around double for women with a larger waist more than 39. A big waist is deemed more hazardous for health than just being overweight, because the fat cells carried around the stomach pump out chemicals that can damage the insulin system, raise blood pressure and increase cholesterol levels.

According to Diabetes UK, if a woman's waist measures 31. There were 200,000 cases of diabetes in 1940; by 2010 the number affected could reach 3 million. Heart disease kills one in six women about 94,000 each year.

But it is a complicated picture, says senior cardiac nurse Ellen Mason, of the British Heart Foundation. Professor Michael Baum, an expert in breast cancer and professor emeritus of surgery at University College hospital London, explains: This, she believes, is because the breast tissue is encouraged to grow by the 'injection' of unusually high levels of oestrogen into the body.

Bigger breasts alone don't necessarily mean an increased risk of breast cancer, although obesity is a recognised risk factor in the disease. In the past 25 years, the incidence of breast cancer has risen by 50 per cent.

Women spend half as much time on housework today compared to 1960s

But bigger breasts are linked to backache and similar problems and, increasingly, larger-breasted women end up undergoing reduction surgery for medical reasons.

This is because oestrogen levels determine where fat is stored; if a woman's hormone levels are unbalanced she ends up storing more fat around the waist and less around the hips where we should. Although it's not clear why women's oestrogen levels might be disrupted, it's possible that the Pill and HRT, as well as stress and diet, may play a role. Wide hips have been traditionally seen as attractive to men because they denote fertility.

More recently, a study from the Institute of Preventative Medicine in Copenhagen showed a hip measurement of 40in or more protects against heart conditions, because hip fat contains a protein called adiponectin, which has an antiinflammatory effect.

In what way used be women in 50’s by comparison in today society. Can woman be anything today?

A modern family watches TV. Size 6 Heavier bodies need a broader base to stand on, explains Lorraine Jones from the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists: The heavier you are, the more the foot spreads out. If you ask the slimmer of the year about their shoe size, it will be smaller than at their heaviest. Weight gain also increases your chance of diabetes, which has a huge impact on foot heath, as it can result in loss of feeling neuropathydiabetic ulcers, vascular problems, and even the possibility of amputation.

Mass vaccination programmes began in the Fifties, leading to dramatic falls in rates of contagion and death. Cases of tuberculosis, previously a leading cause of death, fell from 50,000 cases in 1950 to 8,679 in 2008.

With the launch of the NHS in 1948, access to health care improved, and surgical techniques were breaking new ground.

In 1954, for example, the first successful kidney transplant was carried out using the kidney of the patient's twin. The first hip replacement was carried out in Fifties. New challenges will arise for women's health thanks to our longevity - we live longer than men by an average four years. Women spend about a third of their lives postmenopause now and many will have to live with chronic conditions such as osteoporosis.

Then and Now: A Comparison of Dating Today vs. the 1950s

While this has implications for the women themselves, it also adds to the burden on the NHS. For instance, on the basis of current trends the National Osteoporosis Society estimates hip fracture rates could rise from 46,000 in 1985 to 117,000 in 2016. Share or comment on this article: What's happened to our bodies? Women's figures have been transformed in the past 60 years.