Home cooked food and plenty of housework was the 1960s model
Despite fewer visits to gyms and a love of high-fat foods, people in the 1960s were slimmer simply because they were more active, the government says.
Rates of obesity in English adults have risen from 1-2% in the 1960s to around 26% today, figures show.
Yet in 2010, overweight adults are far less likely to try to lose weight, a repeat of a survey done in 1967 showed.
Plus adults in the 1960s did more housework and used the car less, the Department of Health said.
The 1967 survey of 1,900 adults found nine in ten people had attempted to lose weight in the past year compared with 57% of 1,500 adults questioned in 2010.
Forty years ago, only 7% of those who considered themselves to be overweight had failed to do anything about it compared with 43% of today's adults.
And in 1967, 66% of those surveyed said they wanted to lose up to a stone compared with 46% in 2010.
The Department of Health, which carried out the survey to promote the Change4Life campaign, said the findings were supported by differences in the way people lived.
For example, in the 1960s there were 10.5m television sets compared with a predicted 74m by 2020.
And people are now far less likely to walk or cycle to work or school as seven out of ten households now have a car compared with three out of ten in the 1960s.
In 1967, more than three-quarters of adults said that they walked for at least half an hour every day compared with only 42% in 2010.
People spent twice as much time every week doing household chores and hardly anyone ate takeaway meals, which appeared in the mid-sixties.
Gyms were rarer and high fat foods like condensed milk and cooked breakfast were popular but even though weight loss technology was still in its infancy, 2% of people claimed to have used vibrating massage belts for weight loss in 1967.
Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the faculty of public health, said people are probably healthier these days in terms of life expectancy.
"But we have these problems which are problems of affluence and we need to get back to being more physically active.
"One observation I would make is that overweight people in the 1960s were less common so they may have been more inclined to get back to a normal weight - it's about social norms."
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "In the 60s our daily routines involved more exercise which helped people stay slimmer.
"Nowadays, our increasingly sedentary lives paired with the proliferation of a wide range of unhealthy foods have combined to create a very difficult environment for people to reach and maintain a healthy weight."