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USDA unveils new food pyramid icon.

Following on the heels of the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) release of the new dietary guidelines in January, a new icon meant to replace the old Food Guide Pyramid (issued in 1992) was released in April to simplify the recommendations. Previously, the pyramid was looked upon as a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition education. But this new pyramid, referred to as MyPyramid, speaks to the fact that everyone has different nutritional needs. In fact, USDA's new website, www.mypyramid.com, allows people to personalize the graphic to their individual caloric and physical activity requirements. The website features 12 different pyramids to meet the specific and unique needs of all Americans. According to USA Today, interest in the new website was so keen the day it was released that it received 1.8 million hits within the first hour of its unveiling.

MyPyramid has obviously retained its pyramid shape, but the guts of the pyramid now contain rainbow-colored bands representing different food groups and run vertically from tip to base. The narrowing at the top of each band is meant to suggest moderation and the wider base is meant to represent foods with little or no solid fats, added sugars or caloric sweeteners. Proportionality is exemplified through the different widths of the food group bands. The six colored stripes represent different food groups: orange for grains, green for vegetables, red for fruits, yellow for oils, blue for dairy products and purple for meats, beans, fish and nuts. USDA says the new pyramid symbolizes the recommended proportion of foods from each food group and emphasizes the importance of making smart food choices. The figure to the left of the pyramid running up the stairs is meant to stress the inclusion of physical activity. USDA also believes that this figure will help individuals understand that they can benefit from taking small steps to improve their diet and lifestyle each day.

Critics of the new pyramid believe it is too confusing for consumers, and especially prohibitive to those who do not have Internet access. In addition, it may go too far in promoting individualism. In an editorial penned by Harvey Hartman, founder of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, WA, he said, "While some critics (ourselves included) might immediately question the logic of complicating a tool that has already failed to gain widespread cultural legitimacy, our own research suggests there is a more fundamental problem here. Namely, American consumers simply cannot and will not consistently eat according to a scientific formula, no matter how neatly it is packaged. In other words, it is not the content, packaging or marketing of the food pyramid that's the problem, it's the pyramid itself."

Further criticism was lodged at the new pyramid in the May 2nd edition of the Chicago Tribune, which pointed out the disparity between what types of foods are recommended as part of a healthy diet versus those food groups that receive subsidies. According to the article, "What it [the pyramid] urges people to eat to remain healthy does not match what it [the government] pays farmers to grow." In fact, the article claimed that fruit and vegetable farmers receive no subsidies from the government even though fruits and vegetables should make up the largest share of Americans' diets.--R.W.
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Title Annotation:United States Department of Agriculture
Publication:Nutraceuticals World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
Words:545
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