- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The federal government yesterday replaced its one-size-fits-all food pyramid with a series of food pyramids tailored to individual consumer’s eating and exercise habits.

The food guidance system, found at MyPyramid.gov, provides 12 food pyramids that use vertical, colored bands to represent the food groups Americans should eat. Those include oils, grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and beans, and milk products.

The pyramids also have an exercise level, shown by a person climbing steps next to the pyramid, that advises at least 30 minutes of physical activity for most days of the week.

The U.S. Agriculture Department spent four years and $2.4 million to revise the pyramid, which was last updated in 1992, to reflect the new dietary guidelines released in January.

Rather than put all 23 recommendations on the new food pyramids, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the agency chose a simple symbol that would motivate consumers to personalize their pyramids. The agency also discarded the old pyramid’s use of horizontal blocks to represent food groups.

“The symbol is meant to increase awareness, but the education is in the accompanying materials,” Mr. Johanns said at a press conference in Washington yesterday.

Critics said the revised guide did not go far enough to fix America’s obesity problem. About 65 percent of adults are overweight, with nearly half of those being obese.

Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the new food guide is a “missed opportunity” by not telling Americans what not to eat.

“Pinning all [the USDA’s] hopes to combat obesity on a Web site is sure to lead to disappointment,” Ms. Wootan said. The Washington health-advocacy group has released scathing reports against fast food and junk food in school vending machines.

The main food pyramid shows a person climbing stairs next to a pyramid, which has slivers of colors lined up inside it.

The width of each colored band determines how much a certain food group should be consumed in a normal diet. The orange bar indicates grains, which people should eat at least 3 ounces of daily. Grains consist of such foods as whole-grain bread, crackers, rice or pasta.

A consumer can see a more detailed food pyramid by plugging his age, gender and exercise level into the Web site. The site includes information for people with certain food preferences, such as vegetarians.

The personalized food pyramids are meant to encourage Americans to eat a variety of foods in moderation while exercising regularly, Mr. Johanns said.

The agency is creating another pyramid for children, he said.

The pyramids also provide a caloric guide for people who want to lose weight gradually. Mr. Johanns stressed the pyramids are not diet plans but starting points for Americans to have healthier lifestyles.

Washington area dietitians said they were encouraged by the personalized food pyramids.

“I like the idea that they have exercise in the food guide pyramid. We clearly know it isn’t just food but also our activity level that keeps us healthy,” said Nancy Brenowitz, a Silver Spring dietitian.

Washington dietitian Lalita Kaul said the food pyramids were “more inclusive” for the public’s varied lifestyles. “This makes it easier for consumers to modify the guide to different levels” of caloric intake.

Food manufacturers and retailers that voluntarily placed the old food pyramid on their packaged foods are likely to embrace the new pyramids, said Tim Willard, spokesman for the Food Products Association, a Washington trade group.

Giant Food LLC, the Landover operator of 203 supermarkets in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware and the District, said yesterday it will display a health message each month from MyPyramid.gov in ad circulars, in-store radio and signs.

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