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New Face of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: MyPlate

Guest post from Silje Lier, MPH of Dept. of Health & Human Services (HHS). More info on Silje after the post -

The Department of Agriculture was the source of many tweets and mobile videos last Thursday as we waited in anticipation for First Lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to unveil the federal government’s new food icon, MyPlate. The icon serves as a reminder to help consumers make healthy food choices by dishing out (no pun intended) more fruits and vegetables and smaller portions of protein and grains.

Out With the Old, In With the New

For the last two decades, when Americans thought about nutrition and dietary guidelines, they have most likely conjured up an image of the iconic food pyramid. At least that’s what I was taught in school. The Food Guide Pyramid, which shelved basic food groups in hierarchical order based on recommended serving amount, was replaced in 2005 by MyPyramid, in an effort to simplify the illustration and to promote physical activity. But it was still too complicated.

Here are my simple take-aways from first glance at the new icon:

  • Make half your plate consist of fruits and vegetables;
  • Avoid oversized portions;
  • Eat your favorite foods in moderation; and
  • Remember to balance your calories.

From what I overheard, post-conference buzz and critique about the new icon focused on its neglect of significant nutrition hot-spots from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, i.e. Why isn’t the grains component labeled whole grains? How does the plate address sodium intake? What about beverages?

MyPlate is a visual cue about eating healthy, but specific messages and the 10 Tips Education Series are housed on the new site ChooseMyPlate.gov. And according to its press release, USDA will introduce a new online tool this fall, for users to personalize and manage their dietary and physical activity behaviors.

Food Guidelines for the Future

Besides her role as the First Lady of our nation, we now also know Michelle Obama as the face of the preventive Let’s Move! initiative. But during the press conference, she spoke as a parent, saying, “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too.”

The new icon is not just a colorful info-graphic; it’s a new way of thinking about what we eat and what we serve others.

What are your thoughts on the new icon?

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Silje Lier is a Communication and eHealth Fellow at the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You can follow her on Twitter at @sealya.

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