In the 1950s, women didn't need Pilates or yoga to stay fit. They had 25-pound vacuum cleaners.
A recent British study found that back then the average waistline was 28 inches, but today it's 36, because women had to exert so much more energy around the house than they do now. No Roomba doing all the work while they sat on the couch and ate Chex Mix. Without dryers or microwaves, laundry and dinner were far more exhausting affairs. Also, housewives spent a lot more time on their feet than their modern counterparts, many of whom sit in front of computer screens. And because most families had only one car that Dad got first dibs on, Mom walked more.
Sponsored by a company that markets to U.K. citizens older than 50, the study claims that toiling away at home burned 1,000 calories a day. Dr. Charles Billington, associate director of the Minnesota Obesity Center at the University of Minnesota, finds the study's worth dubious, while not disputing that its claim holds true in the United States as well.
"Since caloric measurements weren't taken at that time, the figure has to be an estimate," he said. "But energy expenditure outside the home has declined over the last 30 years. ... Calories eaten have gone up, and calories burned have gone down."
Nothing new there. The study also found that a woman's average caloric intake then was 1,818, compared to today's 2,178. Did people really eat better in the '50s — when butter was its own basic food group — than we do today?
"I don't know if you could say people ate better then, they just ate fewer calories," Billington said. "There was great reliance on fats and starch."