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How America Grew

A Timeline of National Growth
  -- By Mike Kramer, Staff Writer

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.