Bigger Clothes, Bigger Kids? On Fashion and Obesity

Sometimes, people pay attention to the oddest things. The obesity epidemic crept up with its associated signs and symptoms — for instance, a lot more cases of diabetes — but what really made headlines was when, for example, school officials noticed that kids could no longer fit into chairs. Remember a couple of years back, when that news came out of Britain? Laura Clark reported on remarks made by former cabinet minister Charles Clarke, who said, among other things,

…the problem of ill-fitting furniture may seem ‘mundane’ but in fact furniture requirements had ‘changed dramatically’ over the past decade.

We once published a post called “Walk a Mile in My 46″-Waist Track Pants” and ever since, the question has been resonating: Is fashion to blame for the obesity epidemic? Granted, clothing style is only one part of the concatenation of circumstances that has made the obesity epidemic possible. But it is a large part (just as this assertion is mostly kidding — but not entirely).

This applies mainly to men. In the old days, only a wealthy man could afford to become obese, a prosperous man who could pay a tailor and have a bespoke suit made. Where was an ordinary working stiff going to find extra-large clothes that fit? They didn’t have t-shirts in size quadruple-x, or “big and tall” specialty retail outlets. A man needed to fit into a pair of jeans or off-the-rack suit pants or slacks. There was a strong incentive to control the weight, because he might wind up wearing, as in old cartoons, a barrel held up by rope suspenders.

Also, back in the day, only athletes wore athletic garb. But as soon as the ordinary slob adopted basketball shorts as street wear, the cause was lost. Women have worn divided skirts, known as culottes or skorts, for a very long time. Now men wear divided skirts, and they are called basketball shorts. This is not a sexist judgment. Men should have a perfect right to wear skirts. It’s just that they have discovered what a marvelous cover-up a skirt can be when cellulite is the issue.

Even the skinny guys wear them long and voluminous. For the chunky guy, basketball shorts are the ideal wardrobe item. The waistline is elastic, and you can hide a lot of flab under all that fabric. Same goes for sweat pants. Once the drawstring waist closure hit the marketplace, there was nothing to stop the expansion. There is a saying, derived from opera, “It’s not over till the fat lady sings.” The battle against obesity was over the day the fat lady put on sweat pants.

This theory is neither new nor original. The very first poll organized by the Weigh2Rock website asked, “Why are twice as many kids overweight today?” Of the three choices offered, 28% chose “looser clothes.” That was almost the same number as said “more fattening food” (29%), but more opted for “less active” (43%).

This poll was only the first of a magnificent total of 96 polls that have encouraged children and teens to give their opinions about what’s really causing the childhood obesity epidemic, and what should be done about it. How can it be prevented, and how can it be dealt with in the case of kids who are already overweight? In fact, we have elaborately discussed the reactions of the kids to the wide-seats question, and the collected opinions of teens about food addiction, as well as checking out their responses on several other matters. Over the years, Weigh2Rock participants have also written more than 135,000 anonymous bulletin board posts. In Overweight, What Kids Say, Dr. Robert Pretlow wrote in the Acknowledgements,

And I owe a special debt of gratitude to Ron Wagner for organizing the overwhelming multitude of kids’ posts into a searchable database, so that the most compelling ones could be heard by the world.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity crisis worsens as British pupils become too heavy for their school chairs,” Daily Mail, 05/11/08
Image by colros (Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose), used under its Creative Commons license.

3 Responses

  1. If this article is about “childhood” obesity, then why are all of the pictures you supply of only 40 something women? Do THEY know that you took these pics? I notice that they are taken from behind. Or did you just invade their privacy, and publish them without their knowledge out of a lack of respect? It’s hard enough for us overweight women,who may be that way for any number of reasons, without being used as YOUR “bad example” without our knowledge or consent.

  2. Patricia,

    Thanks for you comments on the photos used on Childhood Obesity News. It gives me an opportunity to outline our photo policy.

    We don’t use any pictures on the blog unless we have permission to use them. For each post, we look for the most appropriate image we can find. It’s not always easy, because the pool of available images often lacks pictures of obese children due to privacy concerns. We do not photograph women or children for these posts and we did not photograph the two women shown in the image attached to this post.

    We do make efforts to use age-appropriate and size-appropriate images. For example, many children are overweight but not obese. We try not to show overweight children when we are discussing obesity. Also, we have taken steps to block the identity of children in some cases where we have permission to show their faces.

    We appreciate your comments because they remind us to make every reasonable effort to match photos with content, to reinforce our editorial message and avoid unfair pairings.

    News Editor
    Childhood Obesity News

  3. Picture is important thing but still important thing is the thought and content. This is really a serious problem which all nations are facing parents, teachers & Government should take firm steps to get it solved.. Society as a whole should share their thoughts like this way… thanks a lot for writing this article we are also working on the same child obesity..

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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