I heard a doctor on a low-carb podcast say that he happened to be looking at photographs of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and realised that there was not a single overweight person in the images.
Now, obviously there were a few plump individuals in the past in some societies at some times, but the explosion of obesity does seem to be a modern epidemic—and, as we know, coincides with the unfortunate confluence of (a) stupid and counterproductive public health advice and (b) a greater availability of refined carbohydrate.
So I wondered about other old photographs. What could I see? I thought to look for crowd scenes, because then I'd get a chance to see more people. Unfortunately, crowd scenes tend to mean people are crowded together closer or photographed at a distance or only their heads can be seen.
I'm not claiming this is "research" in any formal sense—just a quick look round. But perhaps other people would have some better examples, and it seems worth posting what I found anyway. These pictures are all from England and Wales from the 1920s to the 1950s:
Football Association Cup Final at Wembley, Middlesex in 1923:
I don't think anyone in shot is obese—so far as it's possible to tell.
Marchers on the jarrow Crusade of 1936:
Hard to tell, but I don't think so.
I then thought of looking for pictures from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and found this from the Rhodda Valley in Wales:
Far more difficult to tell there. The girl near the centre of the picture just behind the old lady in black looks like she may be a bit hefty (but perhaps it's her face-shape and her clothes blending tonally with those of her neighbours). On the whole I think these people are "normal"—not necessarily thin but not actually obese.
That search also led me to a page where there was not only a picture of children taking part in a Coronation Tableau, but a set of picture of 1950s schoolchildren. i think this is worth posting—I can't actually see a single overweight child in any of these pictures, which is telling. I'm not sure you'd see that nowadays:
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