As public costs for mental illness have doubled in recent years (from $20 billion in 1966, according to the Medical Tribunef to an estimated $40 billion today), investigators have searched every aspect of daily life to explain the nation’s deteriorating mental stability; every aspect, that is, but the nations eating habits. Very few have made a connection between the climbing rate of mental illness and the progressive worsening of the American diet.
In the most recent national study of what families eat, released by the Department of Agriculture, we find that of the 7500 households surveyed, only half had diets that met Recommended Dietary Allowances for calories, protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, and ascorbic acid. The other half had diets that failed to meet the allowances for one or more of these essentials. The diets of one in five families were rated poor!
The percentage of good diets dropped from 60 percent of all households in 1955 to 50 percent in 1965, while diets rated poor increased from 15 percent to 20 percent. Calcium, vitamin A, and ascorbic acid were the nutrients most often found to be in short supply.
The devastating decline in nutritional quality can be partially explained by a grocery dollar shift toward foods offering little but calories. Americans are buying less milk and dairy products but more soft drinks, punches, ades, and alcoholic beverages; less fresh citrus fruit but more frozen juices and lemonade; less fresh and more processed potatoes; more canned, frozen, precooked, ready to serve items in place of prepared at home foods; more potato chips, crackers, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, and candy, all eat and run items filled with sugar, starch, and chemical additives.
The survey compared age groups. Nutritionally, elderly persons fared the worst. Adolescents from ten to sixteen years of age ate almost as poorly. Low income helps explain the diet deficiencies found among senior citizens. Among the young, poor food choices are likely to be the villain.
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