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MyPyramid

MyPyramid, released by the United States Department of Agriculture on April 19, 2005, is an update on the ubiquitous U.S. food guide pyramid. The new icon stresses activity and moderation along with a proper mix of food groups in one's diet. As part of the MyPyramid food guidance system, consumers are asked to visit the MyPyramid website for personalized nutrition information.

MyPyramid was designed to educate consumers about a lifestyle consistent with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, an 80-page document released in January 2005. The guidelines, produced jointly by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), represent the federal nutrition policy.

Overview

MyPyramid contains eight divisions. From left to right on the pyramid are six food groups:

* Grains, recommending that at least half of grains consumed be as whole grains
* Vegetables, emphasizing dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, and dry beans and peas
* Fruits, emphasizing variety and deemphasizing fruit juices
* Oils, recommending fish, nut, and vegetables sources
* Milk, a category that includes other dairy products
* Meat and beans, emphasizing low-fat and lean meats such as fish as well as more beans, peas, nuts, and seeds

There are two other categories:

* Physical activity, represented by a person climbing steps on the pyramid, with at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day recommended
* Discretionary calories, represented by the uncolored tip of the pyramid, including items such as candy, alcohol, or additional food from any other group

Themes

The USDA chose to encode several themes into the design of the MyPyramid icon. According to the USDA, MyPyramid incorporates:

* Personalization, demonstrated by the MyPyramid Web site. To find a personalized recommendation of the kinds and amounts of food to eat each day, users must visit MyPyramid.gov.
* Gradual improvement, represented by the slogan Steps to a Healthier You. It suggests that individuals can benefit from taking small steps to improve their diet and lifestyle each day.
* Physical activity, represented by the steps and the person climbing them, as a reminder of the importance of daily physical activity.
* Variety, symbolized by the six color bands representing the five food groups of MyPyramid and oils. Suggests that foods from all groups are needed each day for good health.
* Moderation, represented by the narrowing of each food group from bottom to top. The wider base stands for foods with little or no solid fats, added sugars, or caloric sweeteners. Suggests these should be selected more often to get the most nutrition from calories consumed.
* Proportionality, shown by the different widths of the food group bands. The widths suggest how much food a person should choose from each group. The widths are just a general guide, not exact proportions.

Differences from the food guide pyramid

In a departure from the food guide pyramid, no foods are pictured on the MyPyamid logo itself. Instead, the logo emphasizes physical activity by showing a person climbing steps on the side of the pyramid. Colored vertical bands represent different food groups. MyPyramid is also intentionally simpler than the food guide pyramid after several USDA studies indicated that consumers widely misunderstood the original design. Consumers are asked to visit the MyPyramid.gov website for personalized nutrition information.

The food guide pyramid gave recommendations measured in "serving sizes", which some people found confusing. MyPyramid gives its recommendations in cups, ounces, and other measures that may be easier to understand.

The food guide pyramid gave a single set of specific recommendations for all people. In contrast, MyPyramid has 12 sets of possible recommendations, with the appropriate guide for an individual selected based on sex, age group, and activity level. MyPyramid does provide sample recommendations on their miniposter:

Development

According to its website, MyPyramid and its associated guidelines were designed for all Americans over 2 years old, although a separate awareness campaign targeted specifically at children is also planned.

A working title of food guidance system was used before the MyPyramid name was chosen.

The MyPyramid update was long-awaited by several lobbying, consumer-advocacy, and professional groups, including the American Dietetic Association, which played a role in recommending the update.

Criticism

Since it was announced, MyPyramid has been under criticism by nutritionists and graphics design experts for being ineffective and difficult to understand. Charges are as follows:

* The colored stripes are not labeled and are therefore confusing.
* The system makes too little use of the much-more-specific Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and does not mention any specific foods to avoid.
* There is now simply too much information to contain on one graphic and still have it be understandable.
* Making it necessary to go to the MyPyramid website to find one's proper pyramid defeats the original 'pyramid' idea of a simple, easy-to-remember nutrition guideline, and possibly discriminates against those without regular Web access.
* The staircase on the side is entirely superfluous, and does not offer any recommendation as to type or duration of exercise.
* The graphics contain no specific information and are not very helpful.
* While not exactly a criticism, some have found it amusing that the stair-climbing figure is, on the chart, climbing steadfastly towards the "discretionary calories."

More information

MyPyramid U.S. government website

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005

ADA Press Release

Critiques

Food Pyramids Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source, compares pyramids

New food pyramid shape: a pyramid

Alternative pyramids

Two healthy alternatives the Mediterranean and the Asian Diet Pyramids

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

The Vegetarian Food Pyramid

The Vegan Food Pyramid

 


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