A sample plate of food icon MyPlate, is unveiled at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, June 2, 2011. Few Americans have heard of MyPlate, new research reveals. (Susan Walsh, Associated Press)
Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes
WASHINGTON — Here’s a little quiz: what replaced the food pyramid, the government’s guide to healthy eating that lasted nearly 20 years?
If you’re confused, you’re not alone.
More than a decade after Department of Agriculture officials abandoned the pyramid, few Americans have heard of MyPlate, a plate-shaped logo that emphasizes fruits and vegetables.
Only about 25% of adults were aware of MyPlate — and less than 10% had attempted to use the tips, according to research released Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics. These figures for 2017-2020 showed only a slight improvement on a similar survey carried out a few years earlier.
That means the Obama administration’s program that costs about $3 million a year hasn’t reached most Americans, even though diet-related illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease continued to increase.
“This is currently the primary teaching tool that communicates guidelines to Americans,” said the study’s lead author, Edwina Wambogo, a nutrition epidemiologist at the agency. “MyPlate should do a little better.”
The results are hardly surprising, said food policy expert Marion Nestlé.
“Why would anyone expect anything different? she said in an email. “MyPlate was never accompanied by an education campaign, is now outdated, deals only with healthy foods, says nothing about unhealthy foods, and is so far removed from what Americans actually eat that it seems unattainable .”
A senior USDA official said the agency’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 aims to increase from $3 million to $10 million per year to strengthen the MyPlate campaign by expanding its reach and reporting revenue and other more culturally relevant materials.
“We absolutely want to make sure that MyPlate and other essential tools are in the hands of more people,” said Stacy Dean, deputy assistant secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. .
The new study found that people who rated their diet as excellent, very good or good were significantly more likely to have heard of MyPlate than those who rated their diet as fair or poor. Of those who had heard of the plan, about a third tried to follow it, according to the study.
MyPlate was introduced in 2011 with high profile support from former first lady Michelle Obama, who made healthy eating and focus.
It uses a dinner plate with four colored sections for fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins, with a smaller circle for dairy products, such as low-fat milk or yogurt. He encouraged Americans to make half their meals fruit and vegetables in what was touted as a quick and easily accessible format.
But the guide omitted crucial details, said Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, a nutrition specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“It doesn’t differentiate between starchy and non-starchy vegetables,” she said. “There’s no grease in there.”
MyPlate also fails to recognize that vegetables, grains and dairy products also contain protein, Nestlé added.
MyPlate replaced the USDA Food Pyramid, which was in use from 1992 to 2011. Although it has been recognized by generations of school children, nutritionists have criticized the pyramid for promoting too many carbohydrates in grains and reducing fats.
“It wasn’t the best set of recommendations on so many levels,” Surampudi said. “Our diabetes rates haven’t gone down. Our obesity rates haven’t gone down. They’ve gone up.”
As soon as it gets a little confusing, people shut up.
–Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, Nutrition Specialist at UCLA
The new study has called for research into why certain groups are less likely to know and follow government guidelines – and how best to reach those with poor diets.
But it’s tricky, Surampudi said. In general, people now know that they should eat more fruits and vegetables. Beyond that, the message becomes confused.
“As soon as it gets a little confusing, people shut up,” she said.
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