Nutrition in the Round

Discussion
Jun 07, 2011
Bernice Hurst

Most of the early responses to the new nutritional food plate graphic replacing the longstanding MyPyramid food icon have been positive. Some of the usual suspects were critical, of course. But overall, with some reservations due to the impossibility of creating a perfect formula, the reaction has been good.

If you haven’t seen or heard about it, MyPlate is round and comprises four sections representing grains, vegetables, fruit and protein. The first two are somewhat larger than the latter. On the side is a smaller circle for dairy.

Some of the features are subtle and need to be clarified (as with the pyramid) by checking an explanatory website for details of what each element can contain.

Some disagree not just with the content but the mere existence of dietary guidance, seeing it as an infringement of their individual rights. Fox News‘ Greg Gutfield reckons “chubby kids represent a superior society” and has an ugly name for those who disagree.

The Los Angeles Times reported that researcher Walter Willett, chair of the nutrition department at Harvard School of Public Health, objected to the implication that dairy should be part of every meal (as did, they said, vegetarian proponents, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine). Mr. Willett also suggested information on the relative benefits of dietary fats and different protein sources would be useful.

At the launch, Michelle Obama called it “a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods we’re eating,” describing a plate as both useful and simple, but conceding it “isn’t the only thing we should be doing.”

U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin’s statement reported in The Boston Globe explained that the priority is to simplify advice to “help individuals and families make healthier meal choices.”

Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietician at Boston University, explained to the Globe, “Eating more produce … fills you up before it fills you out.”

Reuters cited Kathryn Strong of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who said, “If you’re looking at a plate, that’s something you can directly translate to whatever you’re about to eat.”

So … advice, recommendations, guidelines, but not really demands, instructions or requirements. It’s still up to us.

Discussion Questions: Is the new food plate icon an improvement over the pyramid? Will it have any more influence on eating habits?

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10 Comments on "Nutrition in the Round"


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Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
9 years 11 months ago

The plate hopefully does one simple thing…creates clarity. It is much easier to see fruits and vegetables as being 50% of the recommendation. As with all things, the issue is recommendations and are meant to create discussion and to challenge your choices. If this makes it easier for someone to grasp the issue and then try to support one side or the other for themselves and their family, then all the better.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 11 months ago

It’s good to see our tax dollars at work clarifying something that (in my experience) nobody pays attention to in the first place. If the government wants to spend money looking at something, they should take a look at the impact of farm subsidies on America’s diet. Subsidies have helped lower the prices of carbohydrates and their related sugars (like fructose) in the market, making finished products rich in these components cheaper on the shelves of the grocers. People tend to buy and eat what they can afford. There are studies that draw a very clear correlation between the growth of these subsidies and the growth of America’s obesity problem.

Of course it’s much easier to redesign a graphic.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Reality has shown that in the past the Food Pyramid was not typically utilized by consumers to modify their eating habits. This new version is a nice try, however there are cultural changes that must take place to truly have a significant impact on society. Along with governments, especially those outside the US, there are more and more CPG’s and retailers that are focused upon health / wellness / nutrition. Some leaders are the Nestle Nutrition Institute and Giant Eagle Supermarkets health articles and in-store initiatives. These organizations touch consumers directly and hope to have a lasting impact on improving eating habits.

Tony Orlando
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

The government can not get out of its own way, and good intentions will not prevent kids from wolfing down cheeseburgers and fries, when mom is out working with no prepared meal on the table. Good parenting is the only way to get kids to understand any kind of good habits, and as we grow older the healthier choices will make more sense to us. The Ozzie and Harriet sit down family meal is gone, and it is up to the nuclear family to reign in bad eating habits. No icon from Big Brother is going to change that anytime soon.

Anne Howe
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Consumers generally don’t like to be told exactly what to do, so in that light, the ChooseMyPlate diagram gives guidelines and suggestions that are indeed practical and better-for-you. Where it falls short is in the information behind the scenes, because it fails to educate consumers about the significant differences in fruit sugars and types of carbs that can be big contributors to diabetes. So it falls short in a very significant way when it comes to telling the whole story.

I like the visual cue of the plate, it’s memorable and simple. I hope the USDA fixes the education piece even at the expense of the CPG brands that make some of the simple carbs and sugary foods that, as a nation, we should learn to avoid. Hiding the real story is evidence that there is likely more commerce, not more wellness at the heart of the effort still.

I think the best food guidance comes from Dr. Andrew Weil.

Liz Crawford
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

Love it! Weight Watchers does a similar thing – participants use the plate to gauge if they have “half” of the plate of fruits and vegetables. This works.

Denise Yohn
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

The value of MyPlate is as a meme or visual mnemonic — it cannot, and should not, replace a more complete understanding of nutrition

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

I believe that on-sight communication is the most effective messaging technique. The nutrition plate does just that by instantaneously conveying what it wants to say. While there is an opportunity for additional explanations and guidelines, the fact is that everyone receives a positive message for a healthier life. The pyramid was insufficient for many in that it required some time and effort to understand it. The plate is like the best ever billboard that captures your attention and quickly and accurately conveys the message.

Roger Saunders
Guest
9 years 11 months ago
Calorie intake and calorie burn … the food pyramid has obviously not been working to help Americans control the excess weight that has been a part of our lives these past 30+ years. Perhaps the food plate will provide clearer guidance on what we are consuming and how much of it goes down the gullet. That’s just step # 1, however. Those over sized derrieres will gain some added support if more Americans can step away from the sedentary lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed. We’re fond of comparing ourselves to others — increasingly to the population of China. In reviewing some items from BIGresearch U.S. and China studies from the past couple of months, our lack in inactivity becomes apparent. We ask a similar question of both Adult populations — “What are some of your favorite ways of spending your ‘Free & Leisure Time'” In the U.S., 36.7% of adults say exercise/jogging, etc. compared to 47.5% of Chinese adults. Further, only 13.5% of Americans participate in team sports vs. 21.7% of Chinese adults, and… Read more »
Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 11 months ago

It’s an improvement, but if we really want to do something about obesity (and btw, the medical costs that go with it), we’re obviously going to have to do more than that. It’s a nice guideline … for children.

People complain about “Government infringement”, but it worked with cigarettes, didn’t it? Works with safety belts, doesn’t it? So, to that point, a surgeon general’s warning on some foods might actually be the additional step needed. Just my take.

And of course, a warning doesn’t mean we can’t smoke, not wear safety belts and eat like pigs … we can still have at it if we want to! It’s a free country after all! (Hopefully with a caution sign for my kids….)

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