American Consumers Newsletter

by Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director, New Strategist Press
May 2006

The Weightiest Generation




One in five baby boomers is dreading retirement.


The Weightiest Generation

Why have Americans gained so much weight? The number of people trying to answer the question almost rivals the number wanting to lose weight. Perhaps the most interesting attempt at an explanation is a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showing the more restaurants per capita, the greater a population’s weight gain over the past 25 years. In “The Super Size of America: An Economic Estimation of Body Mass Index and Obesity in Adults,” Inas Rashad, Michael Grossman, and Shin-Yi Chou conclude that 54 percent of the increase in Americans’ body mass index between 1976 and 2000 can be explained by the increase in restaurants per capita. (To download this study for a $5 fee, go to

The authors do not know why weight gain is associated with restaurant density, but here’s a theory: As fast food has become part of the daily diet, and as the number of fast-food restaurants has proliferated, Americans eat out more and they eat more when they eat out. The increasingly fierce competition among restaurants has created an arms race of sorts, boosting portion size. When people eat out more, they also consume more calories.
Average daily intake grew from 1,854 calories in 1977-78 to 2,002 calories in 1994-96, say the NBER authors.

The average woman gained 19 pounds between 1976-80 and 1999-02, according to a National Center for Health Statistics report entitled Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index, United States 1960-2002. The average man gained 17 pounds. But a New Strategist examination of weight change within cohorts reveals an even more alarming trend. Boomers have put on much more weight than their older counterparts. (To access this report, go to

Take a look at what happened to boomers. In 1976-80, the average man aged 20 to 29 (born roughly between 1947 and 1956; this cohort includes most of the oldest boomers) weighed 167.9 pounds. By 1999-02, the same man (now aged 43 to 52) weighed 196.0 pounds. During those years, he gained a whopping 28.1 pounds–63 percent more than the average man. This is a much greater weight gain than experienced by older men. Men aged 40 to 49 in 1976-80 (this cohort was born roughly between 1927 and 1936) had gained a smaller 11.8 pounds by 1999-02.

For boomer women, the picture is even uglier. Women aged 20 to 29 in 1976-80 had gained an average of 32.5 pounds by 1999-02 (when they were aged 43 to 52)–a greater weight gain than that of boomer men and more than double the weight gain of their older counterparts. Women aged 40 to 49 in 1976-80 had gained only 15.9 pounds by 1999-02.

Why have boomers gained so much more weight than older Americans? One explanation could be boomer women’s greater labor force participation, which has resulted in more restaurant meals. And boomers appear to have passed on those eating habits to their children. The average woman in her twenties today weighs 156.5 pounds. That’s 21 pounds more than boomer women weighed at their age. The average man in his twenties weighs 183.4 pounds–15.5 pounds more than his boomer counterpart at the same age. If today’s young adults gain weight at the same rate as boomers, then the obesity epidemic has only just begun.

For more on the demographics of the generations, see New Strategist’s just-updated American Generations Series: The Millennials, Generation X, The Baby Boom, and Older Americans. You can download these books now from New Strategist’s web site or order hardcopies and save $10 per book until June 1, 2006.

Also available from New Strategist is Who’s Buying by Age, a new title that details spending patterns by age, spending trends, and tables from the Consumer Expenditure Survey revealing the percentage of households purchasing individual products and services and the amount spent by purchasers.

By Cheryl Russell, editorial director, New Strategist Publications
If you have any questions or comments about the above editorial, e-mail New Strategist at



Percentage of children aged 18 to 24 enrolled in college…
With family incomes of $100,000 or more: 67 percent
With family incomes of less than $50,000: 31 percent

2. Q & A

How much does gasoline matter?

A lot. Gasoline is more important to the average household budget than health insurance, college tuition, or retirement savings. Anyone who thinks the media pay too much attention to every penny increase in the price of gasoline should take a refresher on the rank order of household expenditures. According to New Strategist’s analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, the top six household expenditures in 2004 (the latest data available) are:

1. Food ($5,781)
2. Deductions for Social Security ($3,433)
3. Vehicles ($3,397)
4. Mortgage interest ($2,785)
5. Federal income taxes ($1,519)
6. Gasoline ($1,467)

Gasoline ranks a lofty sixth–and that was in 2004, when the average price of a gallon of gasoline was a bargain at $1.85. As of April 2006, a gallon of gasoline cost $2.91, a 57 percent increase since 2004. Ouch.

If you have any questions or comments about the above Q & A, e-mail New Strategist at



The net worth of householders aged 35 to 44 fell 16 percent between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation.


To keep up-to-date on ever-changing demographics and lifestyles, check out these useful web sites:
With gas prices making headlines nearly every day, you may want to explore this site, home of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. Here you can access current and historical price indexes for just about any item that comes to mind. Interestingly, some items are getting less expensive. Holding product quality constant, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that computers cost 89 percent less in 2006 than they did in 1997. Other items costing less in 2006 than in 1997 include videotape and DVD rentals, down 11 percent; ship fares, down 29 percent; toys, down 20 percent; landline long-distance phone service, down 33 percent; cell phone service, down 35 percent; and photographic equipment, down 46 percent.
Results from the Census Bureau’s 2002 Survey of Business Owners, part of the economic censuses fielded by the bureau every five years, can be found at this site. Reports on black, Hispanic, Asian and women-owned businesses are available. Weighing in at over 400 pages each, the reports include the number of businesses, types of businesses, sizes of firms, and their revenues in 2002. The data are shown for the nation as a whole, and for states, metropolitan areas, counties, and cities. For those wanting a comprehensive picture of minority and women-owned businesses, this is it.



Among people aged 65 or older, Social Security accounts for 35 percent of the income of men and 51 percent of the income of women.


New Strategist continues to do the work for you with a new update of the four-volume American Generations Series, plus a complementary new addition to the Who’s Buying Series:

The Millennials: Americans Born 1977 to 1994, 3rd ed.
Generation X: Americans born 1965 to 1976, 5th ed.
The Baby Boom: Americans Born 1946 to 1964, 5th ed.
Older Americans: A Changing Market, 5th ed.


• Who’s Buying by Age

AMERICAN GENERATIONS SERIES. The four volumes in the American Generations Series are designed for easy use, with ten chapters bringing you the latest data on each generation’s Education, Health, Housing, Income, Labor Force participation, Living Arrangements, Population, Spending, Time Use, and Wealth.

New to the series is the chapter with data from the government’s fascinating American Time Use Survey. And The Millennials includes updated estimates of the sexual activity and drug use of teens and young adults, along with the latest numbers on alcohol and cigarette use among teenagers.

By ordering all four volumes in the American Generations Series by June 1, 2006, you can save $10 off each volume AND receive a free CD containing the previous editions of these books in .pdf format. What a deal!

WHO’S BUYING BY AGE. For anyone interested in spending by age–and age is probably the most important predictor of spending–Who’s Buying by Age could be considered the new bible of spending patterns.

Who’s Buying by Age is your only published source for weekly and quarterly spending data. It gives you, along with its in-depth annual spending data, a full picture not only of what households buy and how much they spend, but how often they buy certain items. Best of all, you get 2000 to 2004 spending trend data by age.

Who’s Buying by Age opens with an overview chapter that examines average spending in 2000 and 2004 for the seven age groups ranging from under 25 to 75 or older. Following this are twelve chapters that focus on spending by product category–alcohol, apparel, entertainment, financial products and services, gifts for nonhousehold members, groceries, health care, household operations, shelter and utilities, restaurants, transportation, and a chapter on personal care, reading, education, and tobacco.

To see detailed tables of contents, introductions, bibliographies, indexes, and sample pages of these books, or to download them in .pdf format, go to



Fifty-three percent of householders aged 25 to 34 buy lunch from a fast-food restaurant during an average week.