“Don’t Become A Sugar Sally!” Children, Food and Nutrition Advice in the Netherlands, 1956-1980

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In the Netherlands, as in many other affluent countries in the Western hemisphere, the general population’s access and subsequent relationship to food and foodways changed in the second half of the twentieth century. Dutch food historians have noted how Dutch foodways changed from the 1950s onwards, a change which can be characterized by the introduction and popularization of “snacks” and “foreign cuisines”, technological advances and a growing abundance of food and drink items available for consumption, both in- and outside the home. Within this changing food and consumption landscape, children played a central role. Not only were they increasingly targeted by the food and leisure industry, their position in society was also changing. Moreover, children’s bodily health became increasingly significant in scientific and public discourse about obesity, which came to be seen as an important threat to public health all over Europe and the United States throughout this period. Not surprisingly, the Dutch Nutrition Education Bureau (Voorlichtingsbureau voor de Voeding) shifted to children as their key audience in the early 1960s. While research has been done in the field of food history into the changing food and eating habits in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as on the discourse on healthy eating habits and bodies in this period, not much attention has been paid yet to children and youth at this intersection. This thesis historicizes contemporary discourses around children’s eating habits and bodies, by examining the Dutch Nutrition Education Bureau’s public and institutional discourse on the eating habits of children and youths in the period between 1956 and 1980. It does so in three parts. First, it examines the three categories of children and youth that the DNEB focused on during the period under consideration: toddlers, schoolchildren and teenagers. The second and third chapters then examine the specific problems in relation to children’s eating habits that the DNEB aimed to put on the Dutch public’s agenda between 1956 and 1980. Between 1956 and 1969, these problems are the sweets consumption and snacking habits of the Dutch youth, Chapter three picks up where the DNEB’s broadening concerns in the late 1960s end: the emerging insight that weight gain could affect, and was affecting, Dutch children.
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