There is no doubt that the views and climate surrounding health and nutrition have changed over time, but the question is: How have they changed? Not all change is good, and not all
change is bad, either. The 1960s in America definitely had its fair share of good and bad health and nutrition practices taking over the country.
In 1961, after an eighteen-year hiatus, the food stamp program came into being again. Under the Food Stamp Act of 1964, “low-income families [were able] to use coupons in retail stores to purchase a more varied and nutritionally adequate diet than available through the receipt of donated commodities.” With this act, low-income families were getting the greater support they needed to be able to support themselves. Not only were they able to access more food for their families, but they were also able to access more nutritious food. This was especially important for children coming from low-income families to be able to have access to the appropriate foods for a healthier diet rather than relying on cheaper, unhealthy foods just to satiate their hunger. In the year following this act, “food stamps were a $60 million program serving fewer than half a million clients. During the late 1960s and 1970s, however, hunger lobby groups and their allies in the Congress made expanded food assistance a top priority.” Due to the attention that the issue of food assistance for those living in poverty was gaining, more laws were made with a specific focus around the children of these families. “The first major child feeding law during this period was the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 which created a school breakfast program, offered schools support for food service equipment, specifically authorized a special milk program (first initiated in 1954) and provided States with administrative funding. In 1968, special meal programs for children in day care centers and summer camps were authorized.” With these new programs that were created because of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, many children of low-income families were no longer being left behind, and their nutritional health was finally being brought to the forefront instead of remaining an untouched aspect of American society.
The 60s also brought Weight Watchers International, which is now known, simply, as WW International. Considering the name change, it’s easy to imagine why there were some positives and negatives to this program when it was first founded in 1963 by housewife Jean Nidetch. Jean’s idea for this company was to basically provide a program that encouraged people to lose or maintain their weight in a healthy manner and to have participants in the program support one another to create a sense of community. Just five years after being founded, Weight Watchers spanned over forty states in America, and even expanded into different countries. The name change did not come until 2018 because the company wanted to show that it was no longer focused on just being a dieting program, but was becoming more and more focused on overall health and wellness, which does not always mean losing or maintaining weight.
Along with the positive aspects of 1960s health and nutrition, of course, come the negatives. In the early 60s, a meal replacement shake called Metrecal was created and marketed as the only thing a person would need to consume for an entire day- no solid foods necessary! Each shake was only about 225 calories, and consumers were instructed to drink four shakes per day, which adds up to 900 calories total for one whole day. 900 calories is not even a substantial amount of calories for a young child, let alone a fully grown adult. Clearly, there were issues with this diet plan, and the Food and Drug Administration thought so, too. In 1978, the FDA pushed to remove Metrecal and other products like it off the market after being able to connect numerous deaths to them. I mean, who would’ve known that a diet plan that encouraged people to practically starve themselves could lead to deaths? As we can see, the 1960s brought progress with certain policies and programs, but this decade also had some setbacks and mistakes with how a “healthy” lifestyle was viewed and pursued.
Author: Lauryn Agron
Editor: Sophia Galvez
Health scientist: Hira Mughal