Food Pyramid Face-Lift

August 26, 2011 10:00 PM
Food Pyramid Face-Lift

The new MyPlate graphic, coupled with online tools, encourages healthy eating habits

From pyramid to plate, the nation’s food icon has received a face-lift. The new MyPlate graphic promises to be more user-friendly and is paired with online tools and resources to help Americans make healthy food choices.

The food icon, which serves as a visual representation of the USDA dietary guidelines, has historically been a pyramid. National dietary guideline policy dates back to 1902, when USDA issued the first Farmers’ Bulletin. That report emphasized the importance of variety,
proportionality and moderation as the healthy living best practices for American males. It also stressed the importance of eating an efficient and less expensive diet that includes more vegetables and proteins and discouraged the consumption of complex carbohydrates and sugars.

Pyramid to plate. More than 100 years later, that model embodies the consumer messages that are emphasized in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

"Key concepts in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are balancing calories and eating fewer calories while gaining more nutrients to get more nutritional bang for our buck," says Stephanie Cundith, a registered dietitian for the Midwest Dairy Council.

According to USDA, the redesign of the food graphic from a pyramid to a plate was done to allow consumers to readily implement the dietary guidelines at home.

"MyPlate is a visual icon that serves as a cue to remind people to fill their plates with nutrient-rich foods," Cundith says. "It replaced MyPyramid and is a symbol more easily associated with mealtime."

The food pyramid, which has represented the dietary guidelines since 1992, was often considered overwhelming, confusing and not applicable by consumers. USDA hopes to change that with the new diagram.

"Our approach here is to make it very simple," explains Robert Post of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. "One icon cannot deliver everything that a consumer needs to know."

The website houses an entire menu of tools for both consumers and professionals, including diet builders; additional nutritional information; and the 2010 dietary guidelines policy.

The government agency is also using social media to attract consumers’ attention. A Twitter handle that is dedicated to the initiative blasts nutritional advice to consumers daily, and the plate icon was introduced to consumers by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the White House’s YouTube channel.

Gaining support.
The plate is not only supported by USDA, but it has been adopted by the mom in the White House as well.

"We are implementing this in our household," related First Lady Michelle Obama in the announcement. "We’ve had a conversation about sitting down with Malia and Sasha and helping them think about how to choose their proportions. This plate is a huge tool."

The First Lady believes that healthy lifestyles start at a young age, as evidenced by her platform on fighting childhood obesity, so it is no surprise that she is in favor of the more child-friendly emblem.

In addition to support from Washington, MyPlate is supported by the more than 2,000
organizations of the Nutrition Communicators Network, a partnership program whose launch coincided with the launch of MyPlate in June. The network brings together a cross section of stakeholders in a healthy America, including private and public businesses and nonprofit organizations.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for the business community and organizations to get involved in a partnership that promotes healthy eating for our nation," Vilsack says. "By joining this effort, organizations send the message that they are ready to help all Americans lead healthier lives and to reverse childhood obesity. This broad-based support is a testament to the appeal of the new MyPlate food icon and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and an affirmation of what we know—that a healthy nation starts with healthy people."

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