Fad diets, quick fixes and long-term guaranteed weight loss solutions have been around for 150 years. The government is preparing to weigh in with new U.S. dietary guidelines next week. So, the Library of Congress decided to take a look back by going into its archives and, with Weight Watchers International, gathering experts recently to discuss America’s history of weight loss.

It turns out our obsession with weight and how to lose it dates back at least 150 years. What hasn’t changed is the quest for an easy fix. There was a low-carb diet as early as 1863. An obesity soap that “never fails to reduce flesh.” A so-called Reduction Salt that pledged to “wash away your fat.” The government first offered advice for a balanced diet in 1894. In 1916 came the five food groups. Ideal height-weight charts showed up around World War II. Diet foods quickly followed, as did weight loss support groups.

For all of that, two-thirds of Americans today are either overweight or obese, with childhood obesity tripling in the past three decades.


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