Indeed, arriving in the midst of an obesity epidemic, this new at-a-glance guide to healthful eating is meant to remind consumers to limit heavy foods like pie and beef up instead on the greens.
“MyPlate” promotes fruits and vegetables, which cover half the circle. Grains occupy an additional quarter, as do proteins such as meat, fish and poultry. A separate circle (looking remarkably like an aerial view of a cup) represents “dairy” and rests to the side. Desserts appear to have been banished — like the pyramid — to the desert.
The message is clear: “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” said Robert Post, an official at USDA’s center for nutrition policy and promotion.
The Obama administration has high hopes for establishing the brightly colored image as a ubiquitous consumer icon. Post said the USDA is targeting food producers, health insurers, restaurants and schools as partners in promoting the image.
At a media-heavy rollout Thursday morning at USDA headquarters, the famously foodie first lady presided, focusing on the obesity problem in children.
“Kids can learn to use this tool now and use it for the rest of their lives,” Obama said. “It’s an image that can be reinforced at breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
USDA will bring the image to “essentially all” schools in the country via the agency’s breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack and other nutrition programs, Post said.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the new “food icon” was designed to help slim Americans’ expanding girths: Two-thirds of American adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese.
“The costs associated with obesity are enormous,” Vilsack said, adding that the image popped into his head at just the right moment during dinner recently. A steak arrived covering “three-quarters” of his plate. “I didn’t eat it all,” he said.
Nutritionists pointed out that the plate image does not suggest portion sizes, only the ratios in which foods should be eaten.
Still, with the White House vegetable garden in full leaf, Obama armed her crusade against the country’s obesity problem with what nutritionists and food lobbyists are already calling a powerful image.
“It’s brilliant in its simplicity,” said Robb MacKie, head of the American Bakers Association, which represents bread makers. “It’s something the average American can look at and get a visual feel for how they can fill up a plate at a meal.”
But not all of the reviewers are raving. Some nutritionists would like to see more detail on USDA’s plate, which fails to direct consumers away from slathering their vegetables in butter or lard.