U.S. Department of Agriculture Announces New Food Pyramid With Focus on Exercise
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday released "a dramatic redesign of its familiar food pyramid" that focuses on exercise and 12 models to improve dietary habits, the Los Angeles Times reports (Maugh/Mestel, Los Angeles Times, 4/20).
The new pyramid is based on revised national dietary guidelines released by USDA and HHS in January that focus on overall caloric consumption, daily exercise and whole grain consumption. The guidelines recommend daily consumption of six ounces of grain products; daily consumption of five to 13 servings of vegetables, compared with a 2000 recommendation of five to nine servings; daily consumption of three cups of low-fat dairy products, compared with a 2000 recommendation of two to three servings; a limit on "discretionary calories"; and a limit on overall fat consumption to no more than 30% of total calories, compared with a 2000 recommendation of 20% to 35% (California Healthline, 1/13).
The new food pyramid, called "MyPyramid," was developed by the public relations company Porter Novelli International, a division of Omnicom Group (Schaefer Munoz, Wall Street Journal, 4/20).
The new pyramid has six vertical bands of different colors that represent food groups. Grains are represented by orange, vegetables by green, fruits by red, oils by yellow, dairy products by blue and meats and beans by purple. The bands are wider for grains, vegetables, dairy products and fruits to highlight that individuals should consume more from those food groups. The old pyramid, last updated in 1992, was a single triangle with horizontal bands to represent food groups.
The new pyramid, released at a news conference that included a talk by fitness expert Denise Austin, also includes on the side a "figure of a person climbing steps toward the tip" to highlight the importance of physical activity, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Quaid, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/19). The dietary guidelines released in January recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily for individuals of normal body weight and 60 to 90 minutes of exercise on most days for children, adolescents and those who seek to control or reduce their body weight (California Healthline, 1/13).
In addition, a new Web site -- mypyramid.gov -- allows individuals to customize the new food pyramid online based on their personal needs. Individuals who visit the Web site can enter their age, gender and activity levels to receive one of the 12 dietary models. The dietary models revise food amounts based on overall caloric consumption of between 1,000 and 3,200 calories daily (Wall Street Journal, 4/20).
The new pyramid also makes recommendations on portion sizes based on cups, ounces and other household measures. The old pyramid used "serving sizes" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/19).
According a USDA spokesperson, the Web site received 15 million hits by mid-afternoon on Tuesday (Wall Street Journal, 4/20). USDA also plans to develop a different food pyramid for children, according to department Secretary Mike Johanns (Higgins, Washington Times, 4/20).
Johanns called the new food pyramid "a system of information to help consumers understand how to put nutrition recommendations into action" (Los Angeles Times, 4/20). He added, "MyPyramid is about the ability of Americans to personalize their approach when choosing a healthier lifestyle that balances nutrition and exercise. Many Americans can dramatically improve their overall health by making modest improvements to their diets and by incorporating regular physical activity into their daily lives."
Johanns, in reference to the old food pyramid, said, "It became clear that we needed to do a much better job of communicating the nutrition messages so that Americans could understand how to begin making positive changes in their lifestyles. And, of course, another thing is very obvious: the science has evolved since 1992, with additional research on issues including the nutritional content of foods and food consumption patterns" (Burros, New York Times, 4/20).
Eric Bost -- undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at USDA -- said that the new food pyramid is a "set of motivational and educational tools designed to help consumers make healthier choices" (Wall Street Journal, 4/20). He added, "If we don't change these trends, our children may be the first generation that cannot look forward to a longer life span than their parents" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/19).
Eric Hentges, director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, said, "The concept here is you need to spend your calories wisely. You don't have a lot of extra calories unless you include more physical activity in your life" (Hellmich, USA Today, 4/20).
According to the New York Times, USDA, which does not have adequate funds to promote the new food pyramid, will rely on marketing by the food industry and distribution of information by nutritionists, physicians and organizations that promote healthy lifestyles. For example, the Grocery Manufacturers of America plans to use inserts in the Weekly Reader newspapers for children in the fourth through sixth grades to promote the new pyramid (New York Times, 4/20).
Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the Food Products Association, said that the food industry "is committed to helping consumers understand how to use the nutrition labels on food products -- in concert with MyPyramid."
In addition, officials for General Mills on Tuesday said that the company will place the new pyramid on more than 100 million boxes of cereal (Wall Street Journal, 4/20).
Food companies on Tuesday also said that they plan to distribute posters and guides for teachers and parents next fall to promote the new pyramid to four million students. The posters and guides will appear in both English and Spanish and will include math, nutrition and science activities (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/19).
According to the Journal, the food industry "was largely pleased with the new icon" (Wall Street Journal, 4/20). The new food pyramid "is a great improvement" over the old pyramid, Pat Verduin, vice president at ConAgra Foods, said, adding that individuals can use the Web site "to identify their individual needs and build a fitness program around them" (Los Angeles Times, 4/20).
Stephanie Childs, a spokesperson for GMA, added that individuals can the use new pyramid to improve their diets (USA Today, 4/20).
However, some health advocates criticized the new food pyramid. Tim Radak, director of nutrition with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said that "it doesn't indicate to the public which foods contain cholesterol and saturated fat."
Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for a Better Health Foundation, said that the new pyramid should have combined the fruit and vegetable groups to highlight them more (Wall Street Journal, 4/20).
Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, called the new pyramid a "missed opportunity," adding, "Pinning all (the USDA's) hopes to combat obesity on a Web site is sure to lead to disappointment" (Washington Times, 4/20). She added that USDA "seems to have bent over backward to avoid upsetting any particular commodity group or food company by not showing any foods that Americans should eat less of" (Los Angeles Times, 4/20). Wootan said, "People need to get clear advice without having to log on to the Internet" (USA Today, 4/20).
Carlos Camargo, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the advisory committee that helped devise the guidelines, said, "The pyramid is incredible to me. The whole concept of replacing unhealthy food with healthy food is very hard to find. I'm pretty skeptical this graphic is going to produce many healthy people except for some highly motivated ones."
Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the public health school at Harvard, said, "Basically I don't think the graphic itself is much of an advance at all except that is shows physical activity. It's somewhat disappointing that a lot of what was in the guidelines is not readily conveyed in what I've seen so far" (New York Times, 4/20).
Several broadcast programs reported on the new food pyramid:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Johanns; Marybeth Thorsgaard, a spokesperson for General Mills; Willett; Wootan; and U.S. residents (Stark, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 4/19). A related story is available online.
- APM's "Marketplace": The segment includes comments from Austen; Susan Ferenc, executive vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs and chief science officer for the Food Products Association; and Wootan (Palmer, "Marketplace," APM, 4/19). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Austen; Bost; Tracy Fox, a registered dietician; and Johanns (Aubrey, "All Things Considered," NPR, 4/19). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Day to Day": NPR's Alison Aubrey discusses the new pyramid (Aubrey, "Day to Day," NPR, 4/19). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Morning Edition": The segment includes comments from Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center Weight Management Center; Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University; Willett; and U.S. residents (Aubrey, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/19). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "Talk of the Nation": The program is scheduled to include a discussion of the new pyramid (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 4/19). The complete segment will be available online in RealPlayer after the broadcast at 6 p.m. ET.