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U.S. Unveils New Food Pyramid

12 programs replace the old one

TUESDAY, April 19, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The U.S. government on Tuesday unveiled 12 new individualized food pyramids to replace the one old one.

The pyramids feature vertical bands representing different food groups instead of horizontal bands, as well as a person climbing a set of steps on the outside of the pyramid.

They also follow the new dietary guidelines that were released earlier this year. Those guidelines recommend eating two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables a day, along with three ounces of whole grain foods, three cups of fat-free or low-fat milk and at least 30 minutes of exercise.

The steps, which match the new slogan, "Steps to a Healthier You," are meant to invoke physical activity as an essential component of good health. But they could just as easily be a reference to the Herculean task the government faces trying to combat inertia and obesity in the United States.

Today, two thirds of adults in the country are overweight or obese, while 15 percent of adolescents and 15 percent of children aged 6 to 11 are overweight. A recent study claimed that obesity had reduced the average lifespan by nine months.

The old food guide pyramid had been in place since 1992, but "few Americans followed the recommendations," U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told a press conference Tuesday.

"It became increasingly clear that we needed to do a much better job of communicating the nutrition message so that Americans could understand how to begin making positive changes in their lifestyles," he said.

Central to the new pyramid system is the idea of individuality. "The idea of one-size-fits-all is a very difficult concept to make work, really impossible. We're different," Johanns said. "Every single American can find a pyramid that is right for them."

Johanns' personal dietary plan, he said, includes 2,800 calories per day with targets of 10 ounces of grain, three-and-a-half cups of vegetables, two-and-a-half cups of fruit, three cups of milk and 7 ounces of meat and beans.

Jackie Newgent is a nutrition consultant and culinary instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. "I really do think that the changes will help Americans follow the dietary guidelines and the reason behind that is that, in the past, we had one pyramid and it had a range of servings and it really did take someone like myself, who is a registered dietician, to operationalize that for everyone," Newgent said. "Now what we have are different pyramids so everyone can find what is exactly right for them rather than not knowing which range they should be eating from. This is more decisive information."

The national plan also includes 23 key recommendations to good health, and 18 suggestions for specific groups of people such as racial and ethnic minorities and seniors. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will also be coming out with a Spanish-language version and a kid-friendly version.

Another aspect of the new plan is accessibility. For instance, serving sizes are now denoted in common household measurements such as cups.

"Converting over to cups and measurements that people do understand is very important because that's how we cook and how we think in the United States," Newgent said.

Above all, the plans are supposed to be doable. "First and foremost is moderation," Johanns said. "You can enjoy a lot of different kinds of food, and even a small amount of exercise will make a difference. The key is to get started."

While the advice dispensed in the new food pyramids is geared for weight maintenance, there is an option for weight reduction as well.

The new guidelines are supported by a Web site -- www.mypyramid.gov -- touted by Johanns as "outstanding." There will also be traditional print materials available and, Johanns said, posters will probably start appearing in health clinics, doctors' offices, schools and more.

"We are going to do everything we can to get the message out and get information into the hands of the average person," Johanns said.

The American Dietetic Association essentially praised the new "MyPyramid" food guidance system, while maintaining that the ultimate success of the program will rest on whether people can use it effectively.

"Time will tell if 'MyPyramid' will convey to consumers the vital nutritional message of balance, variety, moderation and adequacy," said Susan H. Laramee, president of the American Dietetic Association, in a prepared statement.

The new prescriptions are consistent with ADA's emphasis on greater consumption of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. The organization, which helped develop the 2005 Dietary Guidelines on which the new pyramids are based, is also in agreement with other key elements of the plan, including a personalized approach, eating a variety of foods in moderation, paying attention to overall calorie consumption, and balancing food intake with physical activity.

More information

The government has more on the new dietary guidelines.

SOURCES: April 19, 2005, press conference with Mike Johanns, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Jackie Newgent, a nutrition consultant and culinary instructor, Institute of Culinary Education, New York City; April 19, 2005, American Dietetic Association, statement
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