Thursday, April 21, 2005

Early reactions to USDA's new Pyramid

A leading concern with the new USDA food graphic, MyPyramid, is the absence of any message encouraging moderation. Marian Burros of the New York Times reports some interesting comments:

"The pyramid is incredible to me," said Dr. Carlos Arturo Camargo Jr., an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the dietary guidelines advisory committee. "The whole concept of replacing unhealthy food with healthy food is very hard to find. I'm pretty skeptical this graphic is going to produce many healthy people except for some highly motivated ones...."

"What they've done is remove any of the eat-less suggestions," said Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and managing editor of the 1988 Surgeon General's Report. "It's all about moderation and personal responsibility."

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, echoed that sentiment. "Basically, I don't think the graphic itself is much of an advance at all except that it shows physical activity," Dr. Willett said.
"It's somewhat disappointing that a lot of what was in the guidelines is not readily conveyed in what I've seen so far."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also disapproved:
The Dietary Guidelines unveiled in January were the strongest ever, but the new pyramid doesn't clearly communicate that advice to the public. By making "one size doesn't fit all" the mantra, and by replacing one pyramid with 12, the government has made this advice more complicated than it needs to be. There are simple key principles about healthy eating that truly do work for all Americans, and those could have been represented on one symbol.

The Accidental Hedonist says, "I think it's too abstract. The icon representing exercise is all well and good, and I'm glad it's there, but can anyone tell me...without looking it up...what the colors specifically represent?" Actually, on that count, there are .pdf files on the new USDA website that provide more detail about the food groups, but I don't know how to link to them well.

Even the American Dietetic Association sounded decidedly chilly:

The ultimate value and success of the new “MyPyramid” Food Guidance System graphic will be measured by whether it can serve as an effective tool to help people eat according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Time will tell if MyPyramid will convey to consumers the vital nutritional messages of balance, variety, moderation and adequacy. If MyPyramid can assist people in effectively adopting the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines, it will be a great success.

So listen to my own favorable early impression at your own risk -- and certainly keep in mind the disapproval of others.

First, the new graphic is right to include exercise, and does so without stealing the thunder of the food messages. Second, I had feared the graphic would take away the message of proportionality, including the key shocking clear proclamation in the 1992 Pyramid that meat is not the heart of a healthy diet, but the new graphic seems as courageous as the old one on that count. Third, I like the new graphic's appearance, and accept that it is an important marketing logo as well as an important nutrition education document. Fourth, some of the concerns that bother other people most -- such as the new extra steps for finding the actual servings numbers for a particular age and gender profile -- bother me less because I can't count servings over the course of the day anyway. What seems more important to me is the graphic's picture of a healthy diet. Fifth, and finally, I am willing to accept almost any decent graphic, so maybe the basic issue here is that my standards are not as high as the critics' standards. Federal policy might benefit from being held consistently to any consistent marketing message of sensible dietary guidance. The effort to hold the government to consistency is only weakened by too much quibbling over the marketing graphic. But, I really am willing to be pushy when I feel sure I am right, and I am not sure here. Just put my comments in the mix.

No comments: