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Artificial sweetener as a historical window to culturally situated health

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This article employs the history of artificial sweetener consumption in the United States as a window onto the ways in which American women defined health as a physical and cultural construct in the mid-20th century. It uses, as an evidentiary basis, two consumer case studies: the initial adoption of saccharin and cyclamates in the 1950s, and the defense of saccharin in the wake of pending FDA restrictions in 1977. These instances suggest that individuals have historically based their assessment of healthy food products on both their understanding of the products’ physical impact and their set of held values, attitudes, and beliefs particular to a historical moment. They also suggest that gender, class, and geographic location are formative influences on how those values, attitudes, and beliefs are constructed. The history of artificial sweetener consumption points to the importance of considering health from a physical and cultural point of view in attempts to shape nutrition practice and policy in the United States.
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Keywords: artificial sweetener; culture; gender; health; history

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Humanities Institute/American Studies, UC Davis, Davis, California, USA

Publication date: 01 March 2010

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