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"Food Will Build A New America!" The US National Nutrition Program in 1943
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December 15, 2011
2:59 pm
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Will:

Contrary to your assertion, both relative and absolute fat consumption decreased.  

The American Journal of Medicine Volume 102, Issue 3 , Pages 259-264, March 1997. Divergent trends in obesity and fat intake patterns: The american paradox. MD Adrian F. Heini, MD, DrPH Roland L. Weinsier

My discussion of it is found here:

RESULTS: In the adult US population the prevalence of overweight rose from 25.4% from 1976 to 1980 to 33.3% from 1988 to 1991, a 31% increase.

    [WIth a 55% increase in obesity and a 214% increase in extreme obesity. See the original NHANES data.]

During the same period, average fat intake, adjusted for total calories, dropped from 41.0% to 36.6%, an 11% decrease.

    [We were doing exactly what we were told to do: eat less fat.]

Average total daily calorie intake also tended to decrease, from 1,854 kcal to 1,785 kcal (−4%).Men and women had similar trends.

    [Look at that! We weren't eating any more food...but, somehow, we got fatter anyway.]

Concurrently, there was a dramatic rise in the percentage of the US population consuming low-calorie products, from 19% of the population in 1978 to 76% in 1991.

    [Again, we were doing exactly what we were told to do: eat low-fat, high-carb products.]

From 1986 to 1991 the prevalence of sedentary lifestyle represented almost 60% of the US population, with no change over time.

    [So we weren't exercising any less, either.]

In other words, we were eating the same number of calories, eating dramatically more low-calorie, low-fat ‘health food’, and exercising the same amount…but we got dramatically fatter!

JS

December 16, 2011
3:53 am
Againstthegrain
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I dunno. It just wasn't the same/as bad as it is now, but the US was already well on its way on down The Road to UnWellville even in the 40s. Consumption of convenient factory food had really gotten a good foothold in urban populations beginning in the late 19th century; by mid-20th century the food supply had transformed with many, many storebought refined and shelf-stable convenience food products. In WWI many volunteers and draftees had to be turned away from service because of poor physical condition due to malnourishment, possibly from so many refined and depleted foods. As a public health and national security issue, the government sped up the pace of involvement requiring enrichment and fortification of the processed food supply with vitamins and minerals to replace those lost in processing.

My dad, born in 1935, grew up in a Northeastern industrial city on "new" foods. The oldest of 9 kids, he says they consumed a LOT of canned fruit juice, as well as canned fruit & vegetables, because it was easier to heat & serve for his mother (she prepared very basic meals, and I think the growing family eventually had to eat in two shifts for each meal). Potatoes were freshly prepared daily (German and Irish heritage, though I don't think much other fresh produce was served regularly. Desserts were packaged Jello/pudding/cake mixes, etc. Luckily his mother was the daughter of a butcher so they ate good meat on a regular basis. But he and all his siblings, have some degree of malocclusion and except for the two youngest siblings, all have had needed massive amounts of dental work.

My mom, born in 1942, also grew up eating a lot of "new food" from packages. She lived in 8 states while growing up because her father's job building highways required relocating. Her mother, still in very good form at 91 now, grew up poor on a cash-poor tiny farm where they raised all their own food (that probably gave her a good nutritional start in life - they were too poor to buy store food). But after my grandmother graduated from HS (the first in the family), she married and moved away - glad to be rid of the hard farm life and continual work. My grandmother readily adapted to convenience foods to feed her children - canned spaghetti, cold breakfast cereals, margarine, vegetable oils, skimmed milk, cake mixes, store bought bread, etc. Because of the frequent moves, their family later lived in a mobile home (even smaller than today's mobile homes), so the tiny kitchen probably was better suited for preparing convenience foods. My mom has nicely straight teeth with a broad smile, but her molars are full of fillings & crowns.

Such foods probably didn't contribute to excess weight nearly as much as today's packaged foods do, but I don't think they were very wholesome. Urban people in particular probably ate a fair amount of packaged foods in the 40s.

December 16, 2011
7:33 pm
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Againstthegrain:

Thank you for the personal history!

It's easy to think we know everything because of statistics...but statistics are only as good as the underlying data, which often ranges from "suspect" to "complete bunk".  (I'm thinking of "food disappearance data", which only measures food that entered the commodity system -- in a nation that was over 70% rural in 1900...)

I agree that the 1940s diet would not have been optimal by any means: just because the government gives advice doesn't mean we heed it!  Furthermore, I don't believe that convenience food is a conspiracy to make us fat: people buy it because they like not having to spend the time cooking.

However, the evidence I linked in comment #21 shows that people have indeed followed the government's dietary advice to some extent -- and that it's correlated with increased obesity and decreased functional lifespan.

The history of food fortification is indeed interesting: the entire concept of "vitamins" is fairly recent, and pellagra was thought for decades (if not centuries) to be a transmissible disease instead of a deficiency disease.

JS

 

December 18, 2011
3:52 pm
Dr. Gee
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thanks. I really enjoy your writing. LOL

December 20, 2011
3:54 pm
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Dr. Gee:

I do my best.

JS

December 27, 2011
7:17 am
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[...] “Food Will Build A New America!” The US National Nutrition Program in 1943 [...]

December 27, 2011
9:23 am
Tuesday’s Grac
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[...] “Food Will Build A New America!”: The US national nutrition program in 1943 Stop mummy abuse Minding your mitochondria (a.k.a. the paleo cure for MS) — video A completely healthy way to use refined sugar Please consider how your actions may appear Deaths of neti-pot users prompts warning about tap water [...]

December 28, 2011
9:15 am
WOD 12/28 | CrossFit
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[...] Everyday, eat this way *Post thoughts to comments [...]

January 3, 2012
6:37 pm
Correcty Fairy
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Yes, the beef was grass fed (except for the wealthy) but no, the milk was not raw. Milk was pasteurized for the safety of children and had been for decades. Unless you lived on a farm and drank fresh milk from the pail, there is no way you would have been served raw milk in that era. Small dairy farmers delivered their raw product to creameries which pasteurized milk for sale.

Your remarks made me curious about the onset of homogenization. I found references to homogenization becoming near-universal by the 1940's. (The process creates a longer window for sale and also a better product when combining the produce of multiple dairies.) American children of the 1940's drank homogenized, pasteurized whole milk.

January 3, 2012
6:56 pm
Correcty Fairy
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Jennifer:

Heart disease was on the rise and would continue to rise in the coming decades. Transfats (from fake lard and margarines, popularized in the 30's) and smoking take much of the blame.

Infectious diseases such as polio were also a major scourge.

January 3, 2012
8:02 pm
Derby City CrossFit
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[...] the Hip Hinge 101 Ways to Be F*ckin EPIC The 20 Most Intense Workout Songs (You Might Not Know) “Food Will Build A New America!” – The US National Nutrition Program in 1943 These ‘(Victoria’s Secret) Angels’ Are Too Weak Cleans and Snatches Made Easier “5 [...]

January 3, 2012
8:25 pm
Correcty Fairy
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J., I must dispute your answer to Timothy about the US Government's interest in nutrition. There was intense interest worldwide in public health in the early decades of the 20th century, and governments sought to use the burgeoning armentarium of the brand-new field of nutritional chemistry.

The US government mandated: Iron fortification for bread; Niacin fortification of white bread to prevent Pellagra in the Southeast; Iodine in table salt to prevent Iodine-deficiency cretinism in the Middle West; and fluoridization of public water supplies to prevent dental caries. State governments passed pasteurization laws and (under pressure from dairy cooperatives) laws regulating the sale of butter and margarine so that tallow (and, later, hydrogenated vegetable oil) could not be passed off as butter. The Pure Food and Drugs Act initiated the regulation of OTC drugs and supplements and imposed regulations on slaughterhouses and livestock producers. State governments introduced health and safety regulations for restaurants and shellfish and fish sellers. This was also an era in which the government experimented with restricting and prohibiting drugs of abuse, including marijuana, alcohol, and narcotics. The final piece was government-subsidized mass mandatory vaccination of children.

The government not only produced pamphlets like the above; during the Depression they hired college-educated social workers to distribute milk to mothers of needy children and built hospitals in underserved areas. Sanitation and nutrition were seen as critical in the war against endemic disease and poverty.

January 3, 2012
8:41 pm
Correcty Fairy
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Againstthegrain's comments are a good reminder that malnutrition, the dentist's friend, was a serious problem in the United States throughout the 20th century, particularly among the children of the urban poor. Obesity, however, has only ramped up more recently.

January 4, 2012
3:57 am
Gymnastics Wednesday
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[...] Everyday, Eat This Way Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post Recommend on Facebook Buzz it up Share on Linkedin share via Reddit Share with Stumblers Tweet about it Buzz it up Subscribe to the comments on this post Bookmark in Browser This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 at 4:47 am. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. [...]

January 4, 2012
5:08 pm
CrossFit Hustle
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[...] “Food Will Build A New America!”: The US national nutrition program in 1943 [...]

January 11, 2012
2:56 am
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CF:

None of my relatives who grew up in the 1940s drank homogenized milk.  Pasteurized, perhaps (I'll have to check) -- but definitely not homogenized.  The US population was far more rural than today, even in the 1940s, and the dairy industry wasn't nearly as industrialized.  I suspect there was an urban-rural split.

Re: heart disease rates, you're correct that it's likely that they were rising back then -- but the statistics aren't in any shape for us to tell.  Dr. Malcolm Kendrick spends a good deal of time on this subject in his book The Great Cholesterol Con.

Yes, it's easy to forget that antibiotics didn't exist until the 1940s.

Re: the government's interest in nutrition in my response to Timothy, I should have been more clear.  The government didn't seem to be very interested in telling Americans what foods they should have been eating until it started paying farmers to produce certain crops over others.  There were indeed major public health concerns, dating back at least to the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, addressed in many different campaigns.

JS

December 4, 2012
9:00 pm
Katherine
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I disagree that the government did not get involved with telling people what to eat until recently. The US government/USDA churned out propaganda from the late 1800s until at least the 60s to convince housewives that fixing 3 square meals a day for their families was old-fashioned, time-inefficient, and less nutritious than purchasing processed foods.

It worked. When I was in high school in the late 60s/early 70s, my family was the only one I knew of where meals were cooked from scratch every day.

December 17, 2012
2:59 am
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Katherine:

Can you point out some examples?  Because there was plenty of privately-sourced propaganda (it's called "advertising") for industrial foodlike substances such as Crisco — but the government propaganda I've seen is much like that shown in this article.

JS

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7:38 am
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