Nutrition Articles

How America Grew

A Timeline of National Growth

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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.

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

  • In addition to the comment about Swanson's creating tv dinners because people are busier, let's add that in the 1950's and early 1960's one income in a household could support, for many (not all ) families. Now it takes every adult (and sometimes even children) in the household to keep the finances afloat. This has led to new generations not knowing how to shop, how to cook or plan because they never saw it growing up. I work behind a culinary department and can witness that the majority of our younger people come in with no idea how to prepare food, or even coffee (come on, water and beans). This definitely pushes people towards convenient/fast food.
  • How sad that marketing and fast foods evolved with no regard for healthy foods. It is also sad that there are so many over weight people in America. Every where I look they are obese and continue to put chips, sodas, and other junk food in their car at the grocery storet. It is great that some of the fast food restaurants are beginning to add more nutritious foods to their menus, and some of the tv dinners are somewhat more healthy, but the damage has been done! But I say, if a person is really interested in their health, they will look in the mirror and make up their minds. Do they want to be here to watch their children grow up and get married and have children? Although I don't have any children, I have fur babies. And my answer is yes, I want to be here for them.
  • JANBROS
    Kind of made me sad seeing how marketing and technology were used to encourage unhealthy choices/habits.
  • When I visited Las Vegas in the 80's I was shocked at how big the portion sizes were and couldn't understand why! I thought that maybe I'd ordered a sharing plate! I thought then about how much waste there must have been - and I was brought up to clean my plate. I can't imagine how big restaurant portions are now! Trouble is it normalises what is not normal and people lose touch with what and how much they're eating.
  • I don't think getting more for your money or getting your money's worth is wrong. Why are we blaming fast food for our eating habits? You either eat it or you don't. The main problem is self control and knowing for yourself how much you should be eating. These people are not responsible for you. Sadly, I think the only problem here is being fed really disgusting almost inhumane food. Even still, people have a choice. You either eat it or you don't If you want to eat it, choose the right portion sizes. When i eat out I choose the smallest portion. but i'd like the option to remain if I feel like a day of eating a large size. Just saying
  • I didn't so much mind the shameless plug for SparkPeople, but the fact that the article ended on that note. Left a bad taste in my mouth, I'm afraid. I wouldn't mind a lighthearted nod to SparkPeople, but puh-leaze. SP isn't the savior of mankind!
  • 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.
  • "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.

  • what i'm curious about is why portion sizes increased in the first place. anyone got insight on that?
  • 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!
  • MEOWMEOWGIRL
    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!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Oh, the year to remember: 2003! Thank you, Sparkpeople!
  • 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.

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.

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