Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Government Issues 12 New Food Pyramids

Yahoo! News
Government Issues 12 New Food Pyramids

By LIBBY QUAID, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - The government flipped the 13-year-old food pyramid on its side Tuesday, added a staircase for exercise and offered a dozen different models, all aimed at helping Americans trim their waistlines.

Dubbed "MyPyramid," the new graphic interprets the food groups as rainbow-colored bands running vertically from the tip to the base: Orange for grains, green for vegetables, red for fruits, a yellow sliver for oils, blue for milk products and purple for meats and beans. Preferred foods such as grains, vegetables and milk products have wider bands.

To emphasize exercise, the image depicts a figure climbing steps to the top.

In the old pyramid-shaped guide to healthy eating, grains filled the bottom, fats and sweets were at the tip, and vegetables, fruits, dairy products were in the middle.

"It's become quite familiar, but few Americans follow the recommendations," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Tuesday as he unveiled the new pyramid.

The new one encourages people to figure out their calorie and exercise needs using a new government Web site www.mypyramid.com. There people can find 12 different models based on daily calorie needs — from the 1,000 calories for sedentary toddlers to 3,200 for teenage boys.

Improving the health of a nation that has only grown fatter since the first pyramid debuted in 1992 is the goal of the new government tools. Nearly two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, and a report last month in The New England Journal of Medicine contended that obesity, particularly in children, is trimming four to nine months off the average life expectancy.

"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, something that should be very troubling to all of us," said Eric Bost, the Agriculture Department's under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

Nonetheless, officials insisted that "MyPyramid" is not a weight-loss plan, which drew criticism from consumer advocates.

"They don't clearly say, `Eat less,'" said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. "They acknowledge or hint at it with the wedge shape of the food groups. But it doesn't go far enough in making it clear which foods to eat more of and which foods to eat less of."

Nigel Holmes, a Connecticut-based author and lecturer who designs explanation graphics said the new pyramid doesn't provide much information and instead assumes people will do a lot of research.

"They've thrown away the useful part of the pyramid — less at the top, more at the bottom," Holmes said. "I think words and pictures together are very powerful. But just by itself, this isn't a substitute for what we had before."

Holmes called the stair-climbing figure an "inelegant" attempt to encourage exercise. "If you remember the pyramid at all, and you remember oil was at the top, you now have somebody marching steadfastly up towards the oils," he said.

The new pyramid recommends 30 minutes of daily physical activity, says 60 minutes is needed to prevent weight gain and 90 minutes may be needed to sustain weight loss.

To help promote the new emphasis on exercise, Johanns invited fitness expert Denise Austin to be a cheerleader for the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

Austin, a member of the president's Physical Fitness and Sports Council, goaded reporters like an exercise class instructor: "The more you move, the more you lose!" She gave an impromptu demonstration, gripping the arms of her chair like parallel bars and lifting her legs to work her abdominal muscles.

Criticism of the new pyramid stood in contrast to praise that greeted the more detailed "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005," released by the government in January. Developed by a panel of scientists and doctors using the latest research, the 70-page booklet served as the basis for the pyramid's makeover.

The guidelines' message was to choose foods packed with the most nutrition and the least calories; for example, bread made from whole-grain flour instead of white flour.

They also said the government should make its advice less confusing by switching from "serving" sizes to cups, ounces and other household measures, which it did.

In all, there were 23 general recommendations and 18 suggestions for special populations. Officials decided that was too much to cram into the symbol and put the information on the new MyPyramid Web site.

The department figured some would be less interested than others, so they created different types of tools. My Pyramid Plan gives a quick estimate of types and amounts of food people should eat based on age, gender and activity, while My Pyramid Tracker gives a more detailed assessment of an individual's actual diet and exercise habits.

Plenty of people don't use the Internet, and for them, the government is looking to educators, public health officials, dietitians and counselors for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, to help spread the word.

Food companies said through their trade association, Grocery Manufacturers of America, they will distribute posters and guides for teachers and parents next fall aimed at reaching 4 million students. Materials for students to take home will be in both English and Spanish and will include math, nutrition and science activities.


Associated Press writer John Heilprin contributed to this report.


On the Net:

New Pyramid: http://www.mypyramid.gov