USDA to Revise Food Pyramid

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government on Wednesday went ahead with its plan to refashion its well-known Food Guide Pyramid to help chubby Americans eat less and exercise more, Reuters reports.

With two-thirds of Americans either overweight or obese, consumers have largely ignored the government's dietary guidelines, eating too many sweets and fats instead of fruits and vegetables.

"We've got to do something to get a behavioral change," said Eric Hentges, director of U.S. Agriculture Department's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. The USDA and the Health and Human Services are in charge of federal nutrition policy.

Developed in 1992, the Food Guide Pyramid offers a general outline on how much a healthy person should eat each day from the five major food groups. It's the chief educational tool used to help consumers understand the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

The government, which is working to revise both the pyramid and the dietary guidelines by early 2005, has called for input from dietitians, nutritionists, academics, industry representatives, and other interested professionals.

Under the new pyramid, the USDA will recognize for the first time that most Americans do not exercise regularly. New brochures and educational materials about the new pyramid may be aimed at consumers with sedentary lifestyles, Hentges said. Americans who are physically active would be encouraged to get more specific dietary information through a government Web site. "Given the sedentary lifestyles of many Americans, it was considered better not to assume any specific level of physical activity," the USDA commented. The department said its publications would encourage regular exercise.

The current pyramid graphically depicts how Americans should divide up their food intake each day. Fats, oils, and sweets are at the narrow top of the pyramid with advice to use them sparingly. Dairy and meat products occupy the next tier of the pyramid, with a recommended two to three servings per day. Next are vegetable and fruits, with a recommended five to nine servings daily. At the bottom of the pyramid is the bread, rice, and pasta group, with six to 11 servings recommended. The new pyramid may also use cups and ounces to replace the more vague "servings," the USDA said.

Some nutrition experts were skeptical that USDA's efforts would help solve the United States' obesity epidemic. "Nobody understands the pyramid anyway," said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University. "Until USDA starts giving straight information about foods and diets, it's pretty unlikely that people will understand what they need to do to lose weight."

Under the proposal, the USDA offers significantly more detail on the amount of calories certain groups should consume on a daily basis. Groups are based on age, sex and level of exercise. The proposed recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, and milk are based on 12 calorie levels ranging from 1,000 to 3,200 calories. The current pyramid bases food portions on only three levels -- 1,600, 2,200 and 2,800 calories. USDA's proposal additionally considers recent concerns over trans fats and the benefits of whole grains.

Hentges said the USDA was reviewing every aspect of the Food Guide Pyramid so consumers can make nutritional choices that are "adequate but moderate." Depending on how food groups, consumer advocates, and other interested parties respond to the proposal, the pyramid could take a different shape when the revisions are published in February 2005.
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