Here’s a quick quiz: What replaced the Food Pyramid, a government guide to healthy eating that had been around for almost 20 years?
If you’re stumped, you’re not alone.
More than a decade after Agriculture Department officials ditched the pyramid, few Americans have heard of MyPlate, the plate-shaped logo that emphasizes fruits and vegetables.
Only 25% of adults know about MyPlate — and less than 10% have tried using the guidelines, according to one study. Published on Tuesday By National Center for Health Statistics. Those figures for 2017-2020 show a slight improvement from a similar survey done a few years ago.
That means the Obama administration’s program, which costs about $3 billion a year, is not reaching most Americans, even as diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to rise.
“This is currently the primary educational tool that informs the guidelines for Americans,” said the study’s lead author, Edwina Wambogo, a nutrition epidemiologist at the agency. “MyPlate should do a little better.”
Marian Nestle, a food policy expert, said the results were not surprising.
“Why would anyone expect otherwise?” she said in an email. “MyPlate didn’t come with an educational campaign, and now it’s old hat, only deals with healthy foods, says nothing about unhealthy foods and seems out of reach for what Americans actually eat.”
A top USDA official said the agency’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget wants to increase the MyPlate campaign from $3 million to $10 million a year by expanding the MyPlate campaign and making recipes and other items more culturally relevant.
“We want to make sure MyPlate and other important tools are in the hands of more people,” said Stacey Dean, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services.
People who rated their diet as excellent, very good or good were more likely to have heard of MyPlate than those who said their diet was fair or poor, according to a new study. Of those who heard about the program, a third tried to follow it, the study found.
It uses a dinner plate with four colored sections for fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, and a smaller circle for dairy products such as low-fat milk or yogurt. It encouraged Americans to make half of their meals fruits and vegetables in a fast, easily accessible form.
But the guide leaves out important details, said nutritionist Dr. Vijaya Surambudi of the University of California, Los Angeles.
“It doesn’t differentiate between starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables,” he said. “There are no fats.”
MyPlate does not acknowledge that vegetables, grains and dairy foods also contain protein, Nestlé added.
MyPlate replaced the USDA’s Food Pyramid, which was in use from 1992 to 2011. Although endorsed by generations of schoolchildren, nutritionists have criticized the pyramid for promoting excess carbohydrates through grains and reducing fat.
“It’s not the best recommendation on many levels,” Surambudi said. “Our diabetes rate didn’t go down. Our obesity rate didn’t go down. It went up.”
The new study calls for research into why some groups are less likely to learn about and follow government guidance – and how to reach those with poor diets.
But it is tricky, said Surambudi. In general, people now know that they should eat more fruits and vegetables. Beyond that, the message gets confusing.
“It’s a bit of a chaotic minute, and people shut down,” he said.
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