Spring 2005 Vol.
13, Issue 1
Problems Plague New Food Guide Pyramid
| The Food Guide Pyramid was introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1992 to help guide consumers in choosing a healthy diet. It was meant to be a practical tool based on the U.S. dietary guidelines. Deep flaws were recognized even when it was created however, and with current advances in our understanding of diet and health, a new pyramid was clearly needed.
Although millions of dollars were spent to develop and promote the original pyramid, virtually no studies assessed whether adherence to that dietary pattern actually improved health. In one such study published in the November 2000 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, only a small benefit was observed when compared with a typical American diet. In contrast, adherence to an alternative set of guidelines (see figure) was associated with substantial benefit, as reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in December 2002.
A Series of Shortcomings
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 are a step forward, and the new pyramid does represent an excellent opportunity to right former dietary wrongs. Unfortunately, the new pyramid, or MyPyramid as it is now called, leaves much to be desired.
Based on a customized, Web-based design, the new symbol’s best feature is the addition of a stair-climbing figure representing the need for increased physical activity. But it’s downhill from there. The actual dietary advice is unintelligible from the abstract icon, which is essentially the old pyramid turned on its side with six swaths of color and no clarifying text. Although whole grains now get more attention, carbohydrates remain overemphasized, with little concern shown for the empty calories of added sugar. Because the members of the dietary guidelines panel were required to propose directives that would meet the recommended daily intakes of nutrients from food sources only, including inflated calcium recommendations, dairy products are promoted to an extent unsupportable by contemporary evidence. Meat is also unduly promoted, and differences in the health effects of protein sources are obscured.
Meanwhile, the customized advice for eating from MyPyramid is undercut by a dramatic omission. Individuals with Internet access can obtain tailored advice based on age, gender and physical activity; however, there is no consideration of body size (or of the millions of individuals with no computer access or experience with the World Wide Web).
Although everyone knows that big people eat (and need) more food than small people, the present scheme ignores that. Moreover, no distinction is made between those who need to lose weight and those who do not. The advice is based on calories, but only a compulsive few can track calories with any accuracy. Almost everyone, even those gaining weight, are within a few percentage points of caloric balance; therefore, diet composition, coupled with choosing healthy foods and minimizing unhealthy ones, has the greatest impact on nutrition and health.
Sadly, the new pyramid is a lost opportunity to promote health. But the real losers are the hundreds of millions of Americans who look to it for guidance and advice, and get…a graphic.
|Center for Communications,
Health and the Environment
4437 Reservoir Road, NW, Washington, DC 20007
Tel: (202) 965-5990 . Fax: (202) 965-5996