While the average American is one and a half inches taller than fifty years ago, we weigh about 25 pounds more. There are many culprits that have contributed to this increase, of course, most notably our intake of sugar, salt and fat, and penchant for less activity than people expended in the world we grew up in as young boomers.
Think back to 1966, and what your family was doing and eating. More meals were served in the home than eaten outside the home; a good portion of boomer fathers were involved in manufacturing jobs, which were far more physical than today’s desk assignments; kids spent much more time outside in physical activities; and consumption of sugary drinks and desserts, though much higher than they were in the decades before the War, were a fraction of what they are now. Food was more locally sourced, and by definition, fresher.
Enter the big food companies. Since the dawn of food commercialization, food manufacturers have been making claims that their products were good for you, or even better for you than the fresher counterparts. By the 1950s, many companies were funding studies that would suport their claims. Chief among them were studies by the vegetable oil industry. These studies concluded that polyunsaturated vegetable oils were actually better for the American diet than butter, lard and other saturated fats. Even the American Heart Association jumped on the bandwagon in the early 1960s. However, other studies as far back as the early 1950s pointed to the increase in cardiovascular disease and subsequent deaths that were occurring as proof the claims were false.
In 1900, cardiovascular disease was practically non-existent in the population. Fifty years later at the dawn of the Boomer Era, it was killing one third of Americans. Contradictory studies were showing that an increase in polyunsaturated fat consumption was contributing to higher cholesterol levels and clogged arteries, leading to an increase in heart disease not seen before the beginning of packaged foods and polyunsaturated fats.
In 1966, the American Medical Association sponsored and aired a program combating the health claims put forth by the vegetable oil industry, but for the most part, it fell on deaf ears. If your boomer family was anything like Mister Boomer’s, packaged foods and modern formulations represented progress and prosperity, so what could be wrong with that? Besides, they brought convenience and longer product shelf-life, and that allowed for more time to spend with the family.
As time went on and we boomers aged, we became addicted to the fast food that was a novelty for many of us in the 1950s and ’60s. The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recent study states that the average American consumes nearly a ton of food per year; twenty-three pounds of that is pizza alone. And according to the Huffington Post, the average restaurant meal is now FOUR times larger than it was in the 1950s. In other words, we are eating much more than we did fifty years ago.
Like the lobster in the pot of water that is slowly reaching a boil, we were lulled into thinking everything was fine, even though information was available to tell us otherwise. In a time before the Internet, getting that information wasn’t as straightforward as it is today — and now we find ourselves in the realization that the Boomer Generation’s youngest members are over 50. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, blood pressure, and more, are increasing at an alarming rate. Is this our way of checking out early, so “Hope I die before get old” becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy? Or should we now grasp the freedom we said we always wanted to control our own destiny, and overcome another seemingly insurmountable challenge?
What are you doing to improve your diet and health these days, boomers?