May 29 2011

MyPyramid R.I.P.

On May 26, the USDA announced that it will be releasing a new “food icon” to replace the foodless and useless 2005 MyPyramid:

The USDA’s press announcement explained:

The 2010 White House Child Obesity Task Force called for simple, actionable advice to equip consumers with information to help them make healthy food choices. As a result, USDA will be introducing the new food icon to replace the MyPyramid image as the government’s primary food group symbol. It will be an easy-to-understand visual cue to help consumers adopt healthy eating habits consistent with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

What will the new icon look like?  The USDA isn’t saying, but William Neuman of the New York Times did some sleuthing.  According to his account:

The circular plate, which will be unveiled Thursday, is meant to give consumers a fast, easily grasped reminder of the basics of a healthy diet. It consists of four colored sections, for fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, according to several people who have been briefed on the change. Beside the plate is a smaller circle for dairy, suggesting a glass of low-fat milk or perhaps a yogurt cup.

And WebMD scored an interview with Robert C. Post, PhD, deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, who gave additional hints:

“There will be a ‘how-to’ that will resonate with individuals. That is the behavioral part that is needed. We need to transcend information — ‘here’s what the science says’ — and give people the tools and the opportunities to take action.”

He referred to six how-to messages to guide healthy eating that were released with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, and which I enthusiastically posted when the Guidelines were released (I was disappointed that they weren’t actually part of the Guidelines):

Balancing Calories

• Enjoy your food, but eat less.

• Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.

• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

A bit of history:

From 1958 until 1979, the USDA’s food guide was sort of a rectangle illustrating four food groups: Dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals.  In 1979, USDA introduced a highly controversial design with food groups stacked on top of each other, with the plant-food groups at the top and the animal-food groups underneath (the producers of these foods did not like that).

Beginning in 1980, the USDA conducted an extensive research project to develop a new design—the pyramid—which it released in 1991 and withdrew immediately under pressure from meat producers.

In 1992, after a year of extraordinary controversy (recounted in my book Food Politics), the USDA released its highly controversial Food Guide Pyramid.

Why was it controversial?  The food industry objected that the Pyramid make it look as if you were supposed to eat more foods from the bottom of the pyramid than the top (which, of course, was its point).

Nutritionists objected that it encouraged eating too many servings of grains and, therefore, encouraged obesity.

In 2005, the USDA replaced it with the unobjectionable MyPyramid.  The food industry liked this one because it did not indicate hierarchies in food choices.  Most nutritionists that I know hardly knew what to do with it.  It required going online and playing with a website, and was unteachable in clinic settings.

I thought the 1992 pyramid had a lot going for it, particularly the idea that it’s better to eat some foods than others.  But MyPyramid was a travesty–hopelessly complicated, impossible to teach, and requiring the use of a computer.

Given this situation, the new image is highly likely to be an improvement.  If the new icon keeps the hierarchy, conveys concepts easily, and does not require online access, I will consider it a great step forward.

Fingers crossed.

Details about the release:

The announcement will be Thursday, June 2, 10:30 a.m. EDT. It will be live-streamed at www.usda.gov/live.   All information will be posted at www.cnpp.usda.gov.

I’ll be there.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Balancing Calories 

• Enjoy your food, but eat less.

• Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.

• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

  • Dawna

    I wonder if this is going to be at least partially based on the diabetes plate?

  • Anthro

    I read this yesterday and figured you’d post it soon. I can’t wait and wish I could be there!

    I was thinking the same as Dawna–I remember when I got my diabetes notebook from the dietician, it had a big plate right on the front cover divided into thirds, I think with two thirds being veggies.

    The thing that has always bothered me with any of these schemes is the PORTION size. What’s the use of saying “eat five servings of this food”, but not being clear about just what constitutes a “serving”. I think some people think they are supposed to eat five apples a day to comply and then, of course, it all seems hopeless so they just ignore the whole thing.

  • Anthro

    p.s.

    For those who don’t visit here all the time, I lost 45 lbs and am no longer diabetic–that is, I now have normal blood sugar. I have maintained the loss for five years now. Trust me, I now know what a serving size is!

  • Douglas

    When the pyramid includes foods NOT to eat such as: sugar, wheat, and hydrogenated oils then, and only then, will Americans be healthier.

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  • Stwart Jenssen

    Excellent decision. our children must be healthy and with minor index of obesity and why we need better information about what is appropriate for its nutrition.

    Stwart Jenssen
    Findrxonline

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  • http://eatatroys.com/ Chris

    I enjoy your post on the food scene and think the people who follow you would love know about a twist for a local charity! On July 24th Roy’s will host our fun Charity Chow Down Hot Dog Eating Contest for the Make a Wish Foundation

    Anybody, men or women are welcome to enter the Charity Chow Down. Proceeds from the Hot Dog Eating contest are to be donated to the Make a Wish Foundation of the Bay Area. Our goal is to make every child’s wish to come true!

    feel free to share this with anyone
    http://eatatroys.com/charitychowdown

    and our flier
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    Chris

  • Hylton

    Sounds like the UDSA took a nod from the PCRM, who proposed their own “power plate” version a while ago.

    http://pcrm.org/health/powerplate/why.html

    In fairness though, the PCRM power plate visually feels like a throwback to a four food groups model, though of course the grouping is slightly different.

    Both PCRM and USDA push out or minimize diary as a grouping, and it sounds like obvious difference is that PCRM’s protein group eschews animal products.

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