A Chronology of the fat war

October 18, 1998|By Carol Bidwell | Carol Bidwell,Los Angeles Daily News

1903: President William Howard Taft, at 355 pounds, gets stuck in the White House bathtub. He vows to reduce.

1907: Americans are introduced to the calorie and urged to keep count of how many they consume. "Nobody loves a fat man," says actor Roscoe "Fattie" Arbuckle in "The Round-Up." Actress Lillian Russell, for years the nation's pinup girl at nearly 200 pounds, begins dieting and bicycling.

1910: The first diet pills are prescribed; among other ingredients, they contain caffeine, arsenic and strychnine.

1911: Doctors discover that the iodine they use to treat thyroid patients causes weight loss and prescribe it for overweight patients.

1914: Overweight people are urged by medical experts to consume quantities of lemon juice, vinegar, Epsom salts or even soap as diet aids.

1923: Insurance companies coin the term "ideal weight," and begin to charge corpulent policyholders higher rates.

1920s: Cigarettes are promoted as a diet aid. "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet," one popular brand urges. Bathroom scales become popular.

1933: Dinitrophenol is marketed as Corpu-lean, Formula 39 and Slim. By 1936, it is taken off the market; a toxin used in dyes and explosives, it causes rashes and loss of the sense of taste; it blinds some dieters, kills a few others.

1938: Doctors begin prescribing Benzedrine, used as an asthma medication since 1887, as a diet pill.

1942: Amphetamines, handed out by the millions to World War II fighter pilots and combat troops to keep them alert, are found to suppress appetites. Doctors begin prescribing them for overweight civilians, adding barbiturates to fight the nervousness and sleeplessness the diet pills cause.

1959: Metrecal, the first diet drink in a can, is introduced. Regimen, a combination of benzocaine, ammonium chloride and phenyl -propanolamine, is marketed. Costing 30 cents to make, a box sells for $5.

1960: Overeaters Anonymous is formed, a weight-loss program using Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-step concept. It's followed in 1961 by Weight Watchers and in 1965 by Diet Workshops.

1969: Cyclamates, used to sweeten soft drinks, are labeled cancer-causers and taken off the market.

1975: The first "lite" beer is marketed.

1977: Saccharin, used since the 1950s as a sweetener, is banned after it, too, is linked with cancer.

1979: The FDA approves phenylpropanolamine as a safe, mildly effective appetite suppressant; it is marketed over the counter under a variety of brand names.

1981: The FDA approves the use of Aspartame as a low-cal sweetener.

1980s: The market is deluged by a flood of low-cal and low-fat or fat-free foods, including sour cream, mayonnaise, cookies, crackers and deli meats.

1997: Dieters who have relied on the "fen-phen" (fenfluramine and phentermine) combination begin to look for other aids to weight loss after the Food and Drug Administration pulls fenfluramine (marketed as Pondimin) and its cousin dexfenfluramine (marketed as Redux) off the market because they may be linked to serious heart-valve damage. Diet-product companies step up their efforts to market over-the-counter appetite suppressants, "natural" diet aids under the guise of food supplements, metabolism boosters, fat blockers, fat-grabbing fiber supplements, protein shakes and packaged meals. Stomach-stapling and jaw-wiring are still options.

1998: Meridia, the newest diet drug, is prescribed by doctors; sucralose, a new no-calorie sweetener made from sugar itself, is approved by the FDA; and olestra, a low-calorie fat substitute that passes through the body without being digested, is being marketed as Olean in potato chips and other fried-food snacks.

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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