Change in the way we talk about obesity

On Saturday night, NBC aired a re-run of an old episode of Saturday Night Live.  It is one of my favorites that I vividly remembering watching as a teenager when it originally aired back in 1990.  

There is one scene where Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze compete for a spot as a Chippendales dancer.  Watching it now, 25 years later, I was struck at how frank some of the discussion surrounding Farley's weight was at the end, and how, today, it would almost certainly cause offense among some. 

Here's some of the back and forth:

Barney, we all agreed that your dancing was great and your presentation was very sexy. I guess in the end, we all thought Adrian’s body was just much, much better than yours . . . You see it’s just at at Chippendales our dancers have traditionally had that lean, muscular physique, where yours is fat and flabby
Adrian: If you’re really serious about going with me, it can only be because his body is so bad.
Barney, we considered the possibility that our heavieir females might consider a heavy, heavier man that they could identify with

It's comedy, and it's funny.  But, now a quarter century later, I suspect many would see it as inappropriate.  It is now routine to see academic articles on stigma and shame associated with obesity.  On the one hand, it seems that it is  a topic that has been the news a lot over the past 25 years, and perhaps that has changed perceptions of the issue.  I'm also reminded of the controversy surrounding Jonathan Chait's piece in New York Magazine on the rise of politically correct speech.  Or, maybe I'm just getting old and  now pick up on greater sensitivities than I did when I was 15.

We've all probably read of the rising toll of obesity, but while it often seems the discussion about the issue has ramped up, maybe some of that is just availability or confirmation bias.  For example, drawing on a couple CDC data sources, we can see that the mean weight of men aged 40-49 has increased by about 13 lbs since 1990.  For women aged 40-49, it's about 16 lbs.  So, yes we're somewhat heavier on average.

I was interested to see that according to google's ngram viewer (which shows the relative prevalence of a word in books over time), there's only been a slight uptick in writing that uses the word "obesity" over time.


That data set ends in 2008.  What about searchers of the word "obesity".  Here's googletrends on that one since 2004 (the earliest start date it will allow).

We seem to have changed how much we're talking about obesity.  I wonder if the nature of the conversation has changed too?