11 Habits From The '90s That Were Bad For Your Health
We’re living in a culture saturated by nostalgia for the 1990s, but, as much as ‘90s kids may like to indulge in warm, fuzzy memories of that decade, we should remember that it wasn’t all Dawson’s Creek and kickass chokers. Some habits from the ‘90s were bad for your health, and when you think about some of the stuff we ‘90s kids used to get up to — not to mention the stuff we used to eat — it’s really a miracle that any of us survived.
The ‘90s can often seem like a simpler, more relaxed time. The country was in an economic boom, the Internet was new and shiny, and there was less handwringing about boring stuff like nutrition and safety (or, at least, it feels that way in hindsight). But, of course, the very permissiveness of the ‘90s, which can seem like a relaxing break from our contemporary obsession with organics and juicing and kale and whatnot, also means that we did some really unhealthy stuff back then — from playing with toys that were blatantly dangerous to eating foods that were basically plastic. Now that we’ve made it to adulthood, those dangerous toys and foods-that-barely-qualified-as-food may seem sort of adorably old fashioned, but that doesn’t mean they were actually good, or better than what we have today. I mean, I have very fond memories of guzzling Squeezits by the pool back in the day, but that doesn’t mean I actually want to drink them ever again.
Did you risk your health and safety to follow the major trends of the ‘90s? Congratulations on making it through. Some of these things may be familiar:
1. Moon Shoes.
Moon Shoes, which were essentially trampolines strapped to your feet, were really fun and also really, really dangerous (especially if, like me, you were not what anyone would describe as “coordinated”). One off-kilter bounce could send you plummeting to the ground, plastic bouncy boxes still attached. Oof.
2. Wow! Chips.
File this one under “If it sounds too good to be true, it is”: In 1998, Frito Lay introduced a line of fat-free chips made with olestra, a fat substitute that tasted like fat, but that wasn’t absorbable by the body. Sounds awesome, right? Enh, not so much. Sales were massive when the chips first hit the market, but plummeted when customers became familiar with olestra’s side effects, which, according to Time, included “ cramps, gas and loose bowels.” If that wasn’t bad enough, the fat substitute also prevented the digestive tract from absorbing important vitamins.
3. The mall food court.
A long day of wandering the mall was tiring, so of course you took to the food court to refuel. And of course the mall food court was a bastion of terrible-for-you food. Slurpees, Sbarro, Dippin’ Dots, ahoy! At least you were getting exercise walking from one end of the mall to the other, right?
4. Dipping sugary things in more sugar.
What’s better than eating sugar? Using an eating utensil also made of sugar, of course. I have a deep, abiding love for Fun Dip, which is essentially the same sugar powder as Pixy Stix, only with a candy stick on hand that you use to eat it. Dunk-a-roos were also a variation on this theme, only instead of sugar powder, you had frosting, and instead of a candy spoon, you had cookies. Dunk-a-roos felt more like "real" food than Fun Dip, but in the end it was still just cookies and frosting.
5. “Juice” that was not really juice.
In the ‘90s, there were a lot of beverages for kids that were marketed as vaguely juice-like, and therefore as healthier than soda. In fact, they were mostly sugar. Culprits included drinks like Sunny D, Hi-C, and Squeezits, which contained small amounts of actual fruit juice, accompanied by a whole lot of high fructose corn syrup. No wonder they were so tasty.
6. Rollerblade Barbie.
This one is very personal to me: I had Rollerblade Kira as a kid, and, looking back, I think I should be grateful that she didn’t set me on fire. Literally. Rollerblade Kira was part of the Rollerblade Barbie line of dolls, which featured Barbie and her friends clad in fun (read: ridiculous) ‘90s sportswear. Each doll had neon rollerblades that would throw out sparks when you rolled them across a flat surface. I thought they were amazing.
Unsurprisingly, sparking Barbie rollerblades were also hella dangerous. In one of his columns, humor writer Dave Barry cited a letter he’d found from a parent with a safety complaint about the tiny rollerblades. According to him, she said,
Last year, my two daughters received presents of two Rollerblade Barbie dolls ... On March 8, my 8-year-old daughter was playing beauty shop with her 4-year-old brother. After spraying him with hair spray, the children began to play with the boot to Rollerblade Barbie. My little girl innocently ran the skate across her brother's bottom, which immediately ignited his clothes.
Of course, Barry decided to recreate the experiment in his front yard, and ultimately succeeded in lighting a pair of underwear on fire using hairspray and one of Barbie’s rollerblades. In his column, he recounts, “While I was doing this, a neighbor walked up, and I just want to say that if you think it's easy to explain why you're squatting in your driveway, in front of a set of burning underwear, surrounded by hair spray bottles, holding a Barbie doll in your hand, then you are mistaken.”
Unsurprisingly, Rollerblade Barbie and her Rollerblade friends disappeared from the market.
7. The no fat, high carb diet.
When it came to healthy diets, the prevailing wisdom in the ‘90s was that fat was bad, and carbs were good. People who were trying to lose weight or combat heart disease were told to cut fat and cholesterol from their diets, and eat as much pasta as they wanted. As kids, we learned this in the schoolroom — remember the food pyramid? The bottom of the pyramid — the largest part — was comprised of complex carbohydrates, sending the message that carbs should be the foundations of our diets. Current dietary models now emphasize a more balanced diet of whole grains, proteins, vegetables, and good fats.
Food manufacturers made a killing in the ‘90s producing lines of low-fat and no-fat products, but, while these products may have been low in fat, they weren’t healthy. Often companies removed fat from products, only to replace it with sugar (because you’ve got to put something in there to make the product taste good). So although people might have been thinking that their fat-free muffins were healthy, they were actually just consuming a lot of sugar, carbs, and preservatives.
8. Trans fat.
Back in the ‘90s, many of us had never even heard the term “trans fat” — but now we know better. Although trans fat can occur naturally in small doses, most of it is man-made, created by combining hydrogen and vegetable oil and making the oil solid. It has a longer shelf life than other fats, so it was popular for use in prepared foods. In the ‘80s, it was popularly thought that partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fat) were healthier than saturated fat — which means that, by the ‘90s, trans fat was entrenched in a lot of what people were eating. And because people weren’t really yet aware of the amounts of trans fat they were consuming, or of how bad trans fat is for health, they ended up consuming a lot of it — much to the detriment of their health.
In 2006, food companies were finally required to start listing trans fat on nutrition labels. In 2013, the FDA announced a plan to phase out trans fat from prepared food after ruling that trans fat is not “generally recognized as safe” for human consumption. A 2015 action by the FDA determined that trans fat must be removed from prepared food by 2018.
9. Slip ’N Slides.
Hurtling down a wet sheet at top speed may sound super fun, but it’s also (unsurprisingly) crazy dangerous. In the early ‘90s, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission had to issue a warning against teens and adults using Slip N’ Slides, after several people experienced serious neck injuries, and even paralysis, after launching themselves down slippery plastic sheets. Yikes.
10. “Fruit” snacks.
Kids had a bunch of options for “fruit snacks” in the 90s — sweet, gummy treats that looked and tasted like candy, but that seemed like they were actually maybe kinda sorta healthy? The most popular versions were Gushers, Shark Bites, Fruit Roll Ups, and (my fave) Fruit By The Foot, but when you actually look at the ingredients for these treats, it becomes apparent that, while they might not be labeled as candy, they’re not far off.
In an article for The Atlantic, Samira Kawash explains that the difference between fruit snacks and candy is that fruit snacks tend to get some of their sugars from fruit — but that doesn’t make them healthy. “[E]ven if all the ingredients started out as fruit, what the fruit snack primarily delivers is sugar,” Kawash writes. “Sugar from fruit, sugar from cane, sugar from corn, no matter: sugar is sugar. … Fruit snacks are not fruit. They're not better than candy. They are candy.”
11. Frosted tips and soul patches.
OK, I know, these weren’t bad for people's health. But we can all agree that they were bad, right?