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

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
How about adding these to the timeline:

1911 Crisco invented, margarine, vegetable oil, and other transfat products become common.
1930's Physicians note a "heart disease epidemic" for the previously uncommon disease.
1950's Cholesterol identified as key player in heart disease. Vegetable oils and margarine become even more popular.
1970's and 80's Low fat foods become common. Carbohydrate replaces natural fat, for palatability.
1990's Science discovers connection between transfats and heart disease.

Not saying that this is the full story either, just that it needs to be included. Take the natural fat out of whole foods, and you have to replace it with something else, and the food becomes more processed and higher in carbs.
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Outstanding article! I was there for most of this! Report
Good article Report
Thanks Report
I remember many of these fads. Funny. I even touted low fat diets to my friends. Glad to know better now. Report
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. Report
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. Report
JANBROS
Kind of made me sad seeing how marketing and technology were used to encourage unhealthy choices/habits.
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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. Report
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 Report
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! Report
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. Report
"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.

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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.
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