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New Food Pyramid Geared Toward Individual Needs

Breaking News - April 2005 - Week 4

(Apr 27, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- The US government recently unveiled the concept of new individualized food pyramids to replace the old single pyramid.

Food Guide Pyramid 2005, USDA

The new pyramids are based on the new Dietary Guidelines, whichare the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy and education, according to theUS Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are based on what experts have determined to be the best scientific knowledge about diet, physical activity, and other issues related to what we should eat and how much physical activity we need.

Tailored to Each Person

The pyramids feature vertical bands representing different food groups instead of horizontal bands. A new feature of the updated pyramids is a person climbing a set of steps on the outside of the pyramid, to represent the importance of physical activity in addition to good dietary habits.

The pyramidsalso follow the new dietary guidelines that were released earlier this year. Those guidelines recommend eating two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables a day, along with three ounces of whole grain foods, three cups of fat-free or low-fat milk, and at least 30 minutes of exercise.

The steps, which match the new slogan, "Steps to a Healthier You," are meant to invoke physical activity as an essential component of good health.

But they could just as easily be a reference to the Herculean task the government faces trying to combat inertia and obesity in the US.

Today, two-thirds of adults in the country are overweight or obese, while 15 percent of adolescents and 15 percent of children aged 6 to 11 are overweight. A recent study claimed that obesity had reduced the average lifespan by nine months.

The old food guide pyramid had been in place since 1992, but "few Americans followed the recommendations, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns says.

"It became increasingly clear that we needed to do a much better job of communicating the nutrition message so that Americans could understand how to begin making positive changes in their lifestyles," he notes.

Central to the new pyramid system is the idea of individuality.

"The idea of one-size-fits-all is a very difficult concept to make work, really impossible," Johanns says. "We're different. Every single American can find a pyramid that is right for them."

Johanns' personal dietary plan, he says, includes 2,800 calories per day with targets of 10 ounces of grain, three-and-a-half cups of vegetables, two-and-a-half cups of fruit, three cups of milk, and 7 ounces of meat and beans.

"Now what we have are different pyramids so everyone can find what is exactly right for them rather than not knowing which range they should be eating from," says Jackie Newgent, nutrition consultant and culinary instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. "This is more decisive information."

The national plan also includes 23 key recommendations to good health, and 18 suggestions for specific groups of people such as racial and ethnic minorities and seniors. TheUSDA will also be coming out with a Spanish-language version and a kid-friendly version.

Another aspect of the new plan is accessibility. For instance, serving sizes are now denoted in common household measurements such as cups.

"Converting over to cups and measurements that people do understand is very important because that's how we cook and how we think in the United States," Newgent says.

"First and foremost is moderation," Johanns says "You can enjoy a lot of different kinds of food, and even a small amount of exercise will make a difference. The key is to get started."

Information Abounds

While the advice dispensed in the new food pyramids is geared for weight maintenance, there is an option for weight reduction as well.

The new guidelines are supported by a Web site - - touted by Johanns as "outstanding." There will also be traditional print materials available and, Johanns says, posters will probably start appearing in health clinics, physicians' offices, schools, and more.

"We are going to do everything we can to get the message out and get information into the hands of the average person," Johanns notes.

TheAmerican Dietetic Association (ADA) essentially praised the new "MyPyramid" food guidance system, while maintaining that the ultimate success of the program will rest on whether people can use it effectively.

"Time will tell if MyPyramid will convey to consumers the vital nutritional message of balance, variety, moderation, and adequacy," says Susan H. Laramee, president of the American Dietetic Association.

The new prescriptions are consistent with the ADA's emphasis on greater consumption of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains.

The organization, which helped develop the 2005 Dietary Guidelines on which the new pyramids are based, is also in agreement with other key elements of the plan, including a personalized approach, eating a variety of foods in moderation, paying attention to overall calorie consumption, and balancing food intake with physical activity.

Always consult your physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.

USDA FAQ: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005

Q: What are the Dietary Guidelines?

The Dietary Guidelines, developed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), answer the questions, "What should Americans eat, how should we prepare our food to keep it safe and wholesome, and how should we be active to be healthy?"

The Dietary Guidelines are designed to help Americans choose diets that will meet nutrient requirements, promote health, support active lives, and reduce risks of chronic disease.

Q: Why are the Dietary Guidelines important?

The Dietary Guidelines will help Americans make smart choices about food and physical activity, so they can have healthier lives.

The Dietary Guidelines allow government to speak with one voice to the public when presenting advice about proper dietary habits for healthy Americans ages two years of age and older and how to make food and physical activity choices to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

All federal dietary guidance for the public is required to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines.

The Dietary Guidelines provide the foundation for food and nutrition policy and the government's position for debating standards and international reports.

The Dietary Guidelines influence the direction of government nutrition programs, including research, labeling, and nutrition promotion.

This includes theUSDA Food Guidance System - what's now known as the Food Guide Pyramid- which has been updated to reflect the new Dietary Guidelines.

Q: Who approves the Dietary Guidelines?

The Secretaries of Health and Human Services and of Agriculture jointly approve.

Q: How were the Dietary Guidelines developed?

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines were prepared in a three-stage process. In the first, a 13-member Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee drew up a report based on the best available science.

In the second, government scientists and officials reviewed the advisory committee's report and, based on the report and agency and public comments, developed the Dietary Guidelines.

In the third stage, experts worked to translate the Dietary Guidelines into meaningful messages for the public and educators.

Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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