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Meet the new average American man: He weighs 199.8 pounds and stands 5 feet 9 inches tall. The new average American woman weighs 170.8 pounds and is 5 feet 3.5 inches tall.

Since 1960, men have gained nearly an inch in height and women nearly half an inch, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. (The CDC does not have or collect data on nonbinary persons.) The average man put on just over 10 pounds from 1999 to 2018 — and is more than 30 pounds heavier than he was in the 1960s.

The average woman added 7 pounds in the past 15 years and 30 pounds since the early 1970s. In other words, she now weighs about what the average man weighed in the 1960s.

Why? It’s all about our changing diet.

More Calories

Americans are eating more than ever before. Exactly how much more is difficult to establish. For years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tried to measure caloric intake with regular surveys but eventually stopped providing complete data. Among other limitations, people tend to underreport what they eat.

Still, the USDA and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimate that the average American consumes 18 to 24 percent more calories than in the 1960s and 1970s. This is due in part to a boom in meat consumption: The average American was expected to consume 224.6 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2022, compared with 138.2 pounds in the 1950s.

The average American consumes 18 to 24 percent more calories than in the 1960s and 1970s.

At the same time, the average American now gets just 2.5 percent of daily calories from the healthiest foods — vegetables.

Our food itself has changed as well. ­Rather than home-cooked meals, 57.9 percent of our calories now come from ultraprocessed foods. These foods are also the main source of added sugar in our diets, and more sugar means more inflammation, weight gain, and health risks.

A recent National Institutes of Health trial found that eating processed foods for just two weeks resulted in 2 pounds of weight gain.

Longer Lives

Over the past two decades, several studies found that Americans were living longer than they had been 20 years previously. A 2013 JAMA report found that U.S. life expectancy in 1990 was 75.2 years; in 2010, 78.2.

That, too, has shifted, according to a 2022 JAMA investigation. The U.S. life expectancy decreased by 1.87 years in 2020 compared with 2019, led by 3.70 years in Hispanic populations and 3.22 years in non-Hispanic Black populations.

Other studies point to the ­COVID-19 pandemic as the culprit. The JAMA study, however, notes that other high-income countries did not experience a similar life-expectancy drop.

Though Americans as a whole are living longer, JAMA reports that the amount of time we spend with chronic disabilities has increased from 9.4 years in 1990 to 10.1 in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available. The primary contributors to these chronic disabilities include mental and behavioral disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, vision and hearing loss, anemias, and neurological disorders.

At the same time, medical research and development has improved treatment of the primary causes of premature mortality: cardiovascular diseases and cancer, strokes, depression, anxiety, back pain, and disorders of muscles, nerves, and joints.

This article originally appeared as “Changing Life Trends” in the May 2023 issue of Experience Life.

Michael Dregni

Michael Dregni is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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