The Plague of Overweight (1954)


The Plague of Overweight
Despite claims, will power is only cure

LIFE Magazine Cover Photograph from the 1954 article titled The Plague of Overweight
Image: The Plague of Overweight (1954), LIFE Magazine

The Plague of Overweight: Vintage Photographs Illustrate the Obesity Crisis in the U.S. From the Early Days

In March 1954, LIFE magazine ran an article titled “The Plague of Overweight” which in part followed the weight loss challenges faced by 205-pound Dorothy Bradley, 31, originally from Tennessee, began with a sentence that would not have been out of place in a 2013 news report: ‘the most serious health problem in the U.S. today is obesity.’

The Plague of Overweight Part 1
Image: The Plague of Overweight

The article chronicled Dorothy’s efforts to lose weight; her desire to work in medicine; her successes (losing 60 pounds) and her backsliding (gaining it all back, and then some); and ultimately, something of a happy ending, as she lost and, as of the article’s publication, had kept off close to 70 pounds and earned a job as head nurse at a hospital in Kentucky.

Here are some rare pictures from LIFE, many of which never ran in the magazine, made by photographer Martha Holmes to illustrate the March 1954 article.

The Plague of Overweight Part 2
Image: Bulging at beach in 1949, 197-pound Dorothy [Bradley] self-consciously leaves locker room for swim. She covered up embarrassment by being jolly and gregarious.
The Plague of Overweight Part 3
Image: Dorothy Bradley, photographed for LIFE magazine article on obesity, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 4
Image: Dorothy Bradley (C), who on a diet, watching the woman on the right slurp on a milkshake.
The Plague of Overweight Part 5
Image: Dorothy Bradley squeezes through turnstile, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 6
Image: Dorothy Bradley (right), photographed for LIFE magazine article on obesity, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 7
Image: Dorothy Bradley (left), photographed for LIFE magazine article on obesity, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 8
Image: Dorothy Bradley eyes dress in a store window, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 9
Image: Embarrassed at shop because she wears a size 40, Dorothy tries on new dress. A friend encouragingly points out that dieting has reduced waistline by two sizes.
The Plague of Overweight Part 10
Image: In gym in New York sweat-suited Dorothy finds workout did not by itself remove pounds but did help avoid flabbiness as she lost weight dieting.
The Plague of Overweight Part 11
Image: Dorothy Bradley works out in 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 12
Image: Dorothy Bradley works out in 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 13
Image: Dorothy Bradley measures her waist, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 14
Image: Dorothy Bradley (left) meets with a nutritionist, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 15
Image: Dorothy Bradley tries on a dress, 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 16
Image: Dorothy Bradley works out in 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 17
Image: Dorothy Bradley works out in 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 18
Image: Dorothy Bradley works out in 1949.
The Plague of Overweight Part 19
Image: Now down to 155 pounds, an attractive Dorothy dances at Navy Ball.

 

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