A two-decade old icon of healthy eating--the food pyramid—is now ancient history. In what the US Department of Agriculture calls a “monumental effort” to improve the nation’s diet amid the obesity epidemic, the government has dished up a new plate-shaped graphic with massive fanfare from the Obama administration.
The new symbol, which is accompanied by a new website, reportedly cost $2 million to develop. You’ll see the plate everywhere—restaurants, grocery stores, schools, workplaces and online— since the government hopes it will soon become as familiar as the pyramid, recognized by more than 80 percent of Americans. The White House is spearheading the launch of the icon, aimed at boosting awareness of new federal dietary guidelines issued in January. The easy-to-understand graphic augments Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move anti-obesity initiative.
What does the plate symbolize? The icon, which resembles a pie chart or pizza, is sliced into four colorful wedges to illustrate the amounts of each food group—fruits, vegetables, grains and protein--the USDA advises. Half of the plate is covered with fruits and vegetables, the cornerstones of a healthy diet. According to the NY Times, a smaller circle next to the plate represents dairy products, such as a glass of low-fat milk. The idea is to suggest that what we put on our plate makes a key difference to health.
What’s behind the symbol swap? Introduced in 1992, the food pyramid sparked controversy, with the meat and dairy industries contending that it stigmatized their products by placing them near the top (foods to eat in smaller portions). A 2005 update called MyPyramid, issued with the motto, “Steps to a Healthier You,” showed a stick figure climbing the pyramid, whic h was redesigned with a jumble of food images at the base. Nutritionists deemed the 2005 version confusing and all but useless since it didn’t provide visual guidance on how much of each food to eat.
What’s the government’s new dietary advice? The USDA has developed six steps to healthy eating to be released along with the food plate icon:
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