Food Pyramid Too General to be Useful

Since the USDA’s release of MyPyramid, its latest nutrition "food guidance system," the new pyramid has weathered enough criticism to look as beaten up as its Egyptian namesakes.

By David Feder, R.D., Editor

Even Egypt has only seven pyramids. When the USDA unveiled the new version of the Food Guide Pyramid, MyPyramid (, many of us in the field of diet and nutrition communication were thrown for a loop. The whole reason for replacing the original pyramid was to address the persistent accusation that it was too complicated. Yet MyPyramid comprises 12 pyramids, each varying with a person’s age, gender and activity level. How the heck is that less complicated?

The biggest challenge of nutrition communication is conveying that diets are not “one size fits all.” And MyPyramid does that — in fact, that was the goal of those who developed it. O.K. Mission accomplished. But the revamping was necessitated by the continued hue and cry for a clarity the original allegedly did not possess.

Don’t get me wrong; the messages in the new MyPyramid are great. The stress on activity is laudable, long overdue and attentive to the primary flaw in the nutrition community’s approach to obesity roughly about 1990.

But some of the messages are vague to the point of uselessness. “Go easy on fruit juices,” for example. It makes sense to me, a dietitian, but what does it mean to the mother of six kids who dropped out of high school and works as a checker at Wal-Mart? There are millions more out there like her than like me. How can they glean at a glance the nutrition information they need from this Rube Goldberg boondoggle?

The idea of serving those who will benefit the most from a nutrition guide best used in its interactive Internet form — kids who practically live online — is an admirable tactic. But the concept requires an active interest in healthful eating. The challenge is to get the 60 million or so obese Americans who don’t bother when it comes to health to completely change their well-entrenched lifestyles.

As mentioned, a key factor — the key factor — in the obesity epidemic is lack of activity. But lack of activity is a symptom, brought on by a severely time-pressed lifestyle.

Which brings me to the elephant in the room of diet, nutrition and health: The true problem isn’t that people don’t know eating “supersize me” diets will make them fat. Anyone with the intelligence to acquire food for themselves knows eating mostly fruits and vegetables equals good health and weight. The truth is most people simply do not want to deal with it.

As they say, “denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Most of us simply have no time left for meal planning and preparing after work, school, commuting and channeling the unrelenting onslaught of daily responsibilities.

I applaud the processors who are taking this on the chin and making lemonade from lemons by rushing to fill the valuable real estate that is package space with MyPyramid promotions. They’re doing it with a chipper attitude to boot, but I think they are being gracious in the face of a raw deal. MyPyramid is a great teaching tool in a clinical or educational setting. As a quick-take package panel, it leaves much to be desired.

Eat Well!


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