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How America Grew

Highlights on food and America from the past 50 years:

1950’s – USDA creates four basic food groups: milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, and breads and cereals.

1954 – Swanson unveils the first TV dinners. Shoveling, snacking on and munching processed foods in front of the tube will soon become a national pastime.

1955 – Ray Kroc opens his first McDonald’s franchise. During the next 49 years, eating out becomes less of an event and more of a necessity as people get busier and busier. Full schedules and the demand for consistency make fast food a multi-billion dollar industry.

1963 – Weight Watchers is incorporated and the first public meeting is held in a loft in Queens. Talk of balance is there, but soon the quick fix will prevail. (see 1974)

1967 – Amana introduces the first domestic Radarange microwave oven. Convenience foods and frozen foods are easier to eat than ever. Along with convenience, though, these foods bring piles of sodium, sugar and simple, refined carbohydrates, all big contributors to weight gain.

1974 – Two Italian gynecologists invent liposuction, ushering in the era of the quick fix weight loss mentality. To be followed in 1980 by the six-week Beverly Hills Diet, which starts dieters off with 10 days of nothing but fruit and water – and a common side effect of diarrhea.

1977 – Portion sizes start to swell. Hamburgers expand by 23% in the next 20 years; a plate of Mexican food gets 27% bigger; soft drinks increase by 52%; snacks (potato chips, pretzels, crackers) grow 60%. We’re now entering the second generation of overeaters who can’t believe that a fast food soda used to come in 10 oz. cups.

1989 – February is declared National Snack Food Month by the Snack Food Association. A month-long campaign results in a 41% increase in snack food consumption. Junk food in general, aided by preservatives and additives and sky high in sugar and calories, contributes to the fact that twice as many children (25%) are overweight today than 30 years ago.

1990s – Foods labeled “Low-Fat” and “Lite” are hitting their stride and people rely on them to make up for other bad eating habits. What many people find out too late is that “low-fat” doesn’t mean “low calorie.”

1991 – The World Wide Web is born, capping four decades of inventions that encourage a sedentary lifestyle, including TV, video games and riding lawn mowers.

1992 – USDA Food Pyramid is created.

1998 – Olestra, a non-digestible, nutritionless fat substitute is approved by the FDA for use in no-fat snacks. Suddenly, eating has no apparent consequences. Food is merely a placeholder to quell hunger, whether you get the nutrients you need or not. Its value as a life sustainer is further diminished.

2003 – SparkPeople’s answer to the weight gain problem returns to the basics. First, you must value food and the variety of goodness that it brings. Controlled portions, smart substitutions and power foods (high protein, high complex carbs, low calories) make up a healthy, balanced diet.

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Member Comments

fast food places are everywhere. They have spruced up their menu a little, but they still have a long way to go to be considered a healthy place to eat Report
Interesting article. In our town there are a lot of fast food places but only one restaurant that serves a home cooked meal. Needless to say it is a busy place. Report
Great overview of the history of overeating in America. Excellent article. Thank you! Report
Diet pills were brought in.... Report
good info Report
This part is hard to hear but let's not forget that there was a time when one parent was stay-at-home and could oversee most all of a family's day to day nutrition and activity. With finances demanding 2 parents work away from home or the too familiar one-parent family, grabbing snacks, picking up fast food, and using prepared foods became the norm and not the exception. It takes real commitment and dedication to overcome these socially acceptable norms and put value on healthy living. Kudos to those who do!! And thanks SparkPeople for playing a role in educating and providing direction towards a healthier lifestyle. Report
This reminds me of the dog food (think of a popular color) commercials where the owners read the ingredients & compare what they've been giving their pets. Like they've never before read the label. I wonder what they themselves eat. Glad the tide is turning, more farmers markets, young people getting in touch where food comes from & how it is produced. Healthier options are getting into stores even in smaller towns or on line. We need home ec back in school for all kids & emphasis on making recipes that are wholesome & balanced, nutritious meal plans for everyday life. Report
interesting article Report
At ninety, I have lived through all of these changes. Families always sat down to dinner together, because there was no alternative and Moms' job was probably taking care of her family. The kids played outside-kick the can, basketball, biking, etc. until it was time to have "supper". The evening entertainment was listening to the radio, playing board games and an occasional movie at the neighborhood theater. Times have changed, not altogether for the best. Parents jobs today should be teaching their children that life doesn't exist entirely on their cell phone and WI FI. Food prepared at home can taste good. Physical activity doesn't mean charging their electronic gadgets! Progress made during the last hundred years is beyond amazing. I just wish the population would learn to use it to a better advantage. Sparks can help do this. Report
Thank you, Sparkpeople, for helping get those of us concerned about our health and good food back on track. Report
Very startling article. Report
Thanks for a great article! :) Report
I was in high school when the first McDonalds opened in my town, then a flurry of other fast food joints opened quickly afterward. I was amazed at how tasty salty fries and burgers were, and an addiction of sorts started. It went on for several decades. I was in my late fifties when I finally stopped, but I am sure a big part of my struggle with obesity involves my fast food addiction. Wish I could turn the clock back, knowing what I do now. Sadly, one of my daughters was introduced to fast food by me so she is struggling also. Report
We gain and lose as we progress. Change is eternal. Sometimes even the good gets left behind. Report
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About The Author

Mike Kramer
Mike Kramer
As a writer and artist, Mike has witnessed countless motivational stories and techniques. See all of Mike's articles.