An increasing number of overweight Americans have lost the motivation to diet, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Back in 1990, when researchers asked overweight Americans if they were trying to lose weight, 56 percent said yes.
But this has changed. According to the latest data, just 49 percent say they're trying.
This may not seem like a big decline. But given that about 2 out of every 3 Americans are either overweight or obese, a decline of 7 percent means millions more people may have given up on dieting.
"The trend is particularly evident among black women," says study author Jian Zhang, an epidemiologist at Georgia Southern University — though the trend is seen across the population.
So what gives? It seems our perceptions about dieting and our attitudes about overweight people are shifting.
"Women are leading the decline in dieting," the NPD Group told us in 2013, when the group's survey data picked up on this trend.
There seems to be a growing acceptance of bigger body sizes. And women we spoke with helped illuminate this shift.
"My family still loves me and my friends do, too, so it's not like I feel bad about how I look," Cynthia Rodriguez told us.
I met Rodriguez and her family at a food court where they like to go for dinner. Rodriguez told me she weighs more than she should, but she doesn't feel the pressure to diet.
She says she tried dieting in the past, but she didn't lose weight. "It's a negative thing ... like a punishment," Rodriguez says.
These days, Rodriguez says she's trying to exercise more and be healthy, but that doesn't mean she's aiming for skinny. She says not everyone needs to be a size 2.
And her sister Rosa Rodriguez says with more overweight people around, there's a new norm. "Everyone's more comfortable with themselves," Rosa says. "If you feel [good] with the body you have, [whether it's] being size 2, size 10, or size 16, it's just [about] being comfortable."
The authors of the new study point to other reasons overweight people may have given up on trying to lose weight — "primary care doctors not discussing weight issues with patients," for instance.
The paper lays out another factor, too: "The longer adults live with obesity, the less they may be willing to attempt weight loss."
"It's a big concern," study author Jian Zhang told us. Obesity increases the risk of a whole range of diseases, and there's a concern that people who are overweight and obese may be ignoring or overlooking the risks.
Not everyone is convinced that the dip in dieting is bad. "There's a possible good news story in this," says Janet Tomiyama, a psychologist at UCLA who studies eating behavior and weight stigma.
"We're not going to shame people into health," Tomiyama says. Crash diets — focused on weight loss — often fail. But "a lot of research shows that having a healthy body image is what leads to better health outcomes."
She says that the women I met at the mall, including Cynthia Rodriguez, were onto something: focusing on health more broadly instead of just weight.
"Maybe people are taking the focus off the number on the scale, and going more towards focusing on their health," she says, such as sleeping habits and exercise habits and strategies to de-stress.
Tomiyama says there are signs that the strong anti-fat bias in our culture may be shifting.
"There may be a sea change toward pushing back against body shaming and fat shaming," says Tomiyama. And it goes beyond just the shift in perceptions in the U.S.
This month, Vogue magazine put a plus-size model on its cover and the fashion world has begun putting curvier models on the runway. "Even in Paris, a city known for its razor-thin models, signs of hope came via the appearance of Katy Syme and Stella Duval at H&M's vibrant see-now-buy-now show," wrote Janelle Okwodu in a Vogue.com story this week about the fashion world's new focus on inclusivity.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And now let's ask a question raised by new research in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Here's the question - are diets becoming passe? NPR's Allison Aubrey reports that as the number of Americans who are overweight has grown, fewer of them say they are trying to do something about it.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It used to be that if you asked overweight people in the U.S. whether they're trying to lose weight, majority of them said yes. But that has changed. According to new data, just under 50 percent say they're trying. Now, this change doesn't surprise Cynthia Rodriguez. She weighs more than she'd like to, but she says she doesn't feel the pressure to diet anymore.
CYNTHIA RODRIGUEZ: My family still loves me, and my friends do too. So it's not like I feel bad about how I look.
AUBREY: Her story maps well with what the new federal data shows. She says she's tried to diet in the past, but she just didn't lose weight.
C. RODRIGUEZ: It's kind of like - it's in your mind as like - it's a negative thing, like a punishment.
AUBREY: These days, Cynthia says she's trying to exercise more and be healthy. But that doesn't mean she wants to be skinny. She says not everyone needs to be a size 2. And her sister Rosa says, with more overweight people around, there's a new norm.
ROSA RODRIGUEZ: If you feel well with the body that you have - you know, be it size 2, size 10, size 16 - it's just being comfortable.
AUBREY: So did the singer Meghan Trainor tap into a trend with this song that celebrates bigger bodies?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL ABOUT THAT BASS")
MEGHAN TRAINOR: (Singing) 'Cause every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top. Yeah, my mama...
AUBREY: Janet Tomiyama is a researcher at UCLA. She says the strong anti-fat bias in our culture may be shifting.
JANET TOMIYAMA: I do think there may be a sea change toward pushing back against body shaming and fat shaming.
AUBREY: This month, Vogue magazine put a plus-size model on its cover, and the fashion world is also putting curvier models on the runway.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Paris Fashion Week sets the shape of things to come in the fashion world. And this year...
AUBREY: It's possible that today, with growing acceptance of bigger body sizes, fewer overweight people want to diet. The downside, researchers say, is people may overlook or ignore the very real health problems tied to obesity. But Tomiyama says that's not necessarily the case.
TOMIYAMA: Maybe people are, you know, taking the focus off the number on the scale and going more towards focusing on their health.
AUBREY: She says crash diets focused on weight loss often fail. But she says a healthy body image can set the stage for good habits and lead to a healthier life.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF TIM ATLAS' "COMPROMISED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.