Bye, Bye Food Guide Pyramid

On Thursday, the Obama administration will officially ditch the food pyramid, that symbol of healthy eating for the last two decades, and replace it with a simple, plate shape, divided by colored wedges for the basic food groups -grains, protein, and half-filled with fruits and vegetables, reports the New York Times. Beside the plate is a smaller circle for dairy, suggesting a glass of low-fat milk or a yogurt cup. (You can watch as the USDA announces the new Food Icon with First Lady Michelle Obama & Dr. Regina Benjamin at www.usda.gov/live at 10:45 a.m. EST)

It's about time. The Pyramid is too confusing and does not clearly distinguish what foods are deemed healthy or the percentage of those foods one should consume. In fact, a version of the Pyramid currently shown on cereal boxes, frozen dinners and other foods has been so streamlined and stripped of information that many people have no idea what it represents.
 
The Pyramid has a long history; its original version showed a hierarchy of foods, with those that made up the largest portions of a recommended diet (grains, fruit and vegetables, closest to the wide base) and foods to be eaten in smaller quantities (dairy and meat) at the top, which makes no sense to the eye or mind of the viewer. Revised in 2005, MyPyramid turned the old hierarchy on its side, with vertical brightly colored strips standing in for the different food groups, and showed a stick figure running up the side to emphasize the need for exercise.
 
"It's going to be hard not to do better than the current pyramid, which basically conveys no useful information," said Walter C. Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, who said he had not seen the new logo.
 
Designed to underscore the federal government's healthy eating push: make half your plate fruits and vegetables, the symbol is expected to be a crucial element of the administration's crusade against obesity, a mantra being led by the first lady, Michelle Obama.

"We need to get consumers' attention," said Robert C. Post, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. He would not discuss details of the icon in advance of the official unveiling, but said it was meant to be a "visual cue" that would prompt "consumers to say, 'I need to be a little more concerned about what I choose to build a healthy day's diet.'"

Those who have seen it would speak to the newspaper only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the administration to discuss it. Dr. David Kessler, a former commissioner of the FDA, who said he had heard descriptions of the new plate, suggested that if the symbol succeeded in getting people to eat significantly more fruits and vegetables, that alone would be an achievement.

"The reality is that very few of us eat like what has been suggested" in government guidelines for healthy eating, Dr. Kessler said. "There's a world of difference between what's being served and what's on that plate."

Dr. Post said the USDA would spend about $2 million to develop and promote the logo, including research and focus groups, a Web site, and publicizing the image. He said the agency would use the plate to get across several basic nutritional messages, including smaller portions, switching to low-fat or fat-free milk and drinking water instead of sugary drinks.