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Nutrition through the Decades: 1980s

Oh, the 80s. New Wave music, Walkman cassette players, aerobics and more dieting programs! At least in the 80s, the government was focusing on what the people of American society should’ve been consuming to be their healthiest selves. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, or the DGA, “In February 1980, USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] and HHS [Health and Human Services] collaboratively issued Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”[1] This was basically a collection of suggested rules or principles to follow so people would be able to use it as guidance in making smarter and healthier food choices in their daily life. Even though the 1980 Dietary Guidelines used scientific evidence, it still came under fire from certain groups. This led to a Federal advisory committee being created for the purpose of getting scientific expert advice to be used in the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines. “The Departments made relatively few changes from the 1980 edition, but this second edition was issued with much less debate. The 1985 Dietary Guidelines were used as the framework for consumer nutrition education messages.”[2] With this Federal advisory committee and the work it accomplished to make each edition of the Dietary Guidelines as accurate and educational as science would allow, members of American society were given some definitive recommendations on how to help themselves get, be, and stay as healthy as they could.

To also assist with people’s health, just like the 60s had produced Weight Watchers, the 80s produced Jenny Craig. Jenny Craig was founded by- you guessed it- Jenny Craig and her husband, Sidney Craig, in Australia in 1983, but the company moved to America just a couple years later and experienced rapid growth. Similar to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig is a weight loss and weight management company that provides its members with a nutrition plan. There is nothing inherently wrong with Jenny Craig, however, it was definitely geared toward people who made more money considering they had to pay for an entire plan, and it is still like this today. The cheapest meal plan Jenny Craig offers today is about $13 per day, so over a month that adds up to $390 which many low-income individuals don’t just have lying around the house. So, it is safe to say that people who were low-income did not have the luxury of trying out the Jenny Craig diet plan to see if it would help them reach their health goals.

To round out the 80s, there was, of course, the aerobics craze. With this craze came leotards, loud music, and tons of cardio. Aerobics classes usually had a head instructor who would lead the class and get people pumped up and ready to get through an entire class that would basically be nonstop movement until it was over. Now, I’ve seen old aerobics videos (thanks Jane Fonda), and I would definitely need some kind of break with all the movements they were doing.

It seems that because Dietary Guidelines are still being made, Jenny Criag is still being used, and aerobics and classes like it are still popular today, the 1980s really might have been doing something right. Whatever that is, I would say the 1980s definitely wasn’t the worst decade in America for health and nutrition.

[1] Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (n.d.). History of the Dietary Guidelines. [2] Ibid.

Author: Lauryn Agron

Editor: Sophia Galvez

Health scientist: Hira Mughal


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