by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Pyramid

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.

Jan 1 2011

Predictions: national nutrition issues for 2011

My first San Francisco Chronicle “Food Matters” column for the new year deals with some predictions:

Q: Whatever you used as a crystal ball last year turned out to be a pretty good predictor of the most prominent food issues of 2010. How about trying again: What food matters will we be hearing about in 2011?

A: It doesn’t take a crystal ball to figure out what’s coming up with food issues. I’m happy to make predictions, especially since most seem fairly safe.

Dietary guidelines will be released this month. By law, they were due last year and are already late. What will they say? The 2010 guidelines advisory committee recommended eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but introduced a new euphemism – SOFAs, or Solid Fats and Added Sugars – for the “eat less” advice. SOFAs really mean “cut down on fatty meat and dairy products” and “avoid sugary sodas.”

Will government agencies have the nerve to say so? Let’s hope.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue a new food guide. The 2005 pyramid’s rainbow stripes proved impossible to teach and useless to anyone without a computer. I’ve heard a rumor that I will love the new design. I’m skeptical. I liked the original 1992 pyramid. It showed that bottom-of-the-pyramid foods were healthiest, making it unpopular with companies selling top-of-the-pyramid products. But it is healthier to eat some foods than others (see: dietary guidelines).

Will the USDA improve on the 1992 design? We will soon find out.

The fights over food safety will continue. At the last possible moment, Congress passed the food safety bill by a large majority. Now the fights really begin.

Funding will be most contentious, with the actual regulations not far behind. The Congressional Budget Office absurdly considered the bill’s provisions to be “budget neutral.” They are anything but.

The bill’s provisions require the Food and Drug Administration to hire more inspectors just at a time when Republican lawmakers have sworn to cut domestic spending. The FDA also must translate the bill’s requirements and exemptions for small farmers into regulations.

Rule-making is a lengthy process subject to public comment and, therefore, political maneuvering. Watch the lobbying efforts ratchet up as food producers, large and small, attempt to head off safety rules they think they won’t like.

Expect more lawsuits over the scientific basis of health claims. The Federal Trade Commission just settled a $21 million claim against Dannon for advertising that yogurt protects against the flu. The agency also has gone after scientifically unsubstantiated claims that omega-3s in kiddie supplements promote brain development and that pomegranate juice protects against prostate problems. POM Wonderful has already countersued the FTC on grounds that the First Amendment protects commercial speech. I’ll be watching this case carefully.

The FDA will issue new front-of-package label regulations. The FDA has promised to propose an at-a-glance symbol to indicate the overall nutritional value of food products. Food companies like the Guideline Daily Amount spots they are using in the upper corners of food packages because the symbols are factual but nonjudgmental. The FDA, however, is considering red, yellow and green traffic-light symbols that do convey judgments. Food companies say they will not voluntarily use a symbol that tells people to eat less of their products.

Will the FDA have the courage to make traffic lights mandatory? It will need courage. The new British government dealt with the traffic-light idea by summarily dismantling the food agency that suggested it.

Corporations will seek new ways to co-opt critics. Under the guise of corporate social responsibility, food companies have been making large donations to organizations that might otherwise criticize their products. The most recent example is the decision by Save the Children, formerly a staunch advocate of soda taxes, to drop that cause coincidentally at a time when its executives were negotiating funding from Coca-Cola.

Such strategies remind me of how the Philip Morris cigarette company distributed grants to leading arts groups. Expect food companies to use generosity to neutralize critics and buy silence.

School meals will make front-page news. Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act last month. Now the USDA must implement it by setting nutrition standards, adding fresh fruits and vegetables (some locally grown) and expanding eligibility.

President Obama has promised to restore the $4.5 billion “borrowed” from the SNAP (food stamp) program to fund this act. The scrambling over the regulations and financing should make excellent spectator sport.

Farm bill advocates will be mobilizing. You might think it too early to be worrying about the 2012 Farm Bill, but I’ve already gotten position papers analyzing commodity and food-assistance issues from groups gearing up to lobby Congress to bring agricultural policy in line with nutrition and public health policy.

I have a personal interest in such papers. I will be teaching a course on the Farm Bill at New York University next fall. Please get busy and write more of them!

Happy new year, and let’s see how my guesses play out.

Feb 25 2009

The news in food marketing: love of Tropicana packaging?

When it comes to food marketing, I know I live on another planet but really, doesn’t the fuss over the packaging of Tropicana go too far?  According to the report in the New York Times, consumers are so upset over Pepsi’s new Tropicana carton design that they have forced Pepsi to withdraw it.  Pepsi, it seems, underestimated the deep emotional bond its customers had with the original packaging.  Deep emotional bond?  With orange juice packaging?  Readers: I need some help with this one.

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As if that weren’t enough, CSPI’s Margo Wootan sends me the latest newsletter from the Council of Better Business Bureaus giving details of voluntary efforts by food companies to improve the nutritional quality of products marketed to kids.   Do these seem like significant improvements?

Finally, the new USDA Secretary has just announced a partnership with Disney and the Ad Council to promote the MyPyramid for kids.  Isn’t this nice of Disney?

Feb 14 2008

USDA challenges food companies to help end childhood obesity

The USDA has just issued a corporate challenge to food companies to “step up to help end childhood obesity by empowering the household gatekeeper to assist her in modeling a healthy lifestyle and by providing information to help her make healthy food choices for herself and her family.” How? Uh oh. By using MyPyramid. This may indeed be a challenge. Even nutritionists have trouble understanding how to use MyPyramid. USDA provides a long list of suggestions of ways food companies might use MyPyramid.  These make me think we will have to wait and see whether such things as CDs in cereal boxes, placemats, and websites are able to use the Pyramid for real education rather than for marketing the companies’ products.

Dec 30 2007

The Marilyn Manson Pyramid

While we are all debating the merits of grains, whole and not (my bottom line: they are too delicious to give up; like everything else, eat in moderation), how about this version of the USDA’s Pyramid, courtesy of Eminem? Happy new year!

Added comment: oops

Dec 28 2007

A new pyramid for older adults?

I’ve been hearing lots of media announcements of the food guide pyramid for old folks produced by Alice Lichtenstein and her colleagues who do research on aging at Tufts University. This one is for adults age 70 and over and is published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition. The press announcement from Tufts compares it to the USDA’s MyPyramid of 2005. The differences: even greater emphasis on eating healthfully and staying active (because older adults don’t need as many calories to maintain weight) and, maybe, some supplemental vitamin D (bone health) and vitamin B12 (to overcome losses in absorption ability).