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Nutrition Articles  ›  Pitfalls and Plateaus

How America Grew

A Timeline of National Growth

-- By Mike Kramer, Staff Writer
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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.
Continued ›

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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.

Member Comments

  • When McDonald's first opened, your drink came without ice -- you had to ask for ice -- so it's possible your 10 oz cup held more soda than you get in a small drink today. - 1/21/2014 8:41:04 PM
  • "During the next 49 years, eating out becomes less of an event and more of a necessity as people get busier and busier."

    Many civilizations have favored eating out because of busy schedules or as a sign of status. The first I can think of is Rome. Cities in the Roman Empire were covered in little places where you could stop and get food (It wasn't exactly "health food" either). Often people lived in houses or apartments that lacked a kitchen. So, eating "out" was required for survival.

    - 1/21/2014 8:03:45 PM
  • what i'm curious about is why portion sizes increased in the first place. anyone got insight on that? - 5/29/2013 9:29:50 PM
  • i did not know that SP has been around since 2003!!! Awesome!
    it needs to be updated...isn't the new thing instead of a pyramid it's the plate! - 5/29/2013 7:01:47 PM
  • I tried Olean potato chips back in 1998 on a dare from a college friend. Worst decision ever! I spent the rest of the night with stomach cramps and running to the bathroom. Come to find out years later that the fat molecules are linked in a way comparable to chicken feed! Yuck! - 5/29/2013 3:26:34 PM
  • liked the article. It is really something to think about when you are trying to make health food choices as to how our food got in the state that it is. - 5/29/2013 3:08:36 PM
  • This article is pretty heavily slanted; I like reading things that are informative and useful but when the bias is so obvious I tend to lose focus on the message.
    Thumbs down. - 5/29/2013 1:14:10 PM
  • Oh, the year to remember: 2003! Thank you, Sparkpeople! - 5/29/2013 10:39:36 AM
  • I try not to eat at fast food restaurants. When I travel long distances (which is about 1x a year), I end up having to eat fast food. I go for the smallest size I can get., which is off the dollar menu, the under a dollar menu, or kid's menu. I quit buying drinks and keeping my own in an ice chest (one of those 7.5 ounce soda's). I would ask for the smallest sized drink and it would be a 24 ounce drink or some absurd size like that. I've tried to get the kid's size but couldn't get it. Oh well. - 5/29/2013 10:20:15 AM
  • BETH789
    I gave up eating at McDonalds years ago. I retained plenty of other bad eating habits (I am here after all... :) ), so I've had a weight problem for a while, but I was managing it and even losing somewhat steadily. Last month I was in a hurry and stopped by McDonalds for a quick lunch. Then I went again the next week and again 2 weeks later. I have put on more weight in the past month. It really is addictive (the fat and the convenience both) and it's really a wake up call as to just how bad that stuff is for me. Saying that it's just once a week is not something I can do anymore. - 5/29/2013 9:51:06 AM
  • When was growing up, the closest McDonald's was 25 miles away and it was a rare and special treat. The burger was the tiny burger that they have now and the fries were the child fries. That was all that was available back then and I would guess that we went there maybe once a year. Now there is a McDonald's everywhere and the portions are huge. Thankfully most fast food joints are making at least a little bit of effort to offer healthy choices, which I think is a good trend since there will always be people who will eat at those places. - 5/29/2013 9:38:56 AM
  • I worked at McDonald's in high school 84-86. I remember when the 32 oz drink came out. We thought it was huge. What is now considered a small drink used to be the medium size. What is now a child's size drink used to be an adult small. The supersize fry did not even exist. Buffet restaurants are everywhere now. When I was younger we had one buffet restaurant in town. It was considered upscale. You dressed up to go there and it was a special occasion place. Now people hit the buffet restaurants at least once a week after church. Food has definitely taken over our lives. The one area that amazes me that people actually eat the stuff is when you go to a fair or festival. The food trucks each year come up with some new fried/sugary item each year that doesn't even look good yet people just chow down on it. - 5/29/2013 8:20:57 AM
  • This is a good article. It have one point that I don't agree with! Weight Watchers is the only "diet" plan that is actually healthy and sustainable. They are NOT a "quick fix" as you stated in the article! The only problem with the program is the price. They are the same nutritionally as what SparkPeople advocates! - 5/29/2013 8:13:17 AM
  • If someone wasn't paying attention, they should now! What a mess we have become. Thank you Spark people! - 5/29/2013 8:10:48 AM
  • We have to eat real food and smaller portions - 5/29/2013 7:34:22 AM