- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The federal government yesterday released a new food pyramid for children that uses colored posters, an interactive Web game, school lessons and handouts to combat childhood obesity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency in charge of the national school lunch program, updated the children’s version of the newest food pyramid guide, which is known as MyPyramid.

“This is a very fun approach to addressing the very serious problem of childhood obesity,” Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns told reporters yesterday. He spoke to more than 50 fifth-graders at Samuel Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria.

Nearly 16 percent of American children, ages 6 to 19, are overweight, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The children’s food pyramid, called MyPyramid for Kids, is nearly identical to the newest adult pyramid that was released in April.

This is the first time the children’s pyramid has been updated since the USDA introduced it in 1999. The revisions required one year and $600,000 to develop, said USDA spokesman John Webster.

The latest children’s food pyramid mirrors recommendations given in the main guide, which for the first time stresses that adults need at least 30 minutes of daily exercise to stay healthy.

The children’s food pyramid encourages an hour of daily exercise while advising children to eat more whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

In addition to the pyramid guide poster, which uses simple language for children and more pictures and colors than the adult pyramid, the USDA created lesson plans for students in first through sixth grades.

The agency also introduced a Web-based game, MyPyramid Blast Off, which challenges students to select healthy foods and activities to fuel their rockets on the Internet.

Action for Healthy Kids, a Skokie, Ill., nonprofit group that advocates nutrition changes in schools, called the program an “interesting” way to motivate children to be healthier.

While children understand that nutrition is important, most have no clear understanding of portion sizes or how to balance their intake of fattier, calorie-dense foods, said Executive Director Alicia Moag-Stahlberg.

“We see [students] are not eating enough fruits and vegetables,” she said.

The School Nutrition Association said there has been a lack of focus on exercise in schools for the past decade, with only a handful of states requiring public schools to offer a physical education class.

“What we’ve seen in schools is a drop in physical activity, which is much more widespread than it has been in the past,” said Erik Peterson, spokesman for the Alexandria trade association for school lunch providers.

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