Secrets of the Food Pyramid, Revealed

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By Sally Squires
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It may soon be a little easier to scale the U.S. food pyramid: Grocery manufacturers and food producers last week launched a national campaign to help consumers follow the government's healthy-diet advice.

Called "Take a Peak," the program highlights food and beverages that meet the latest federal guidelines for healthy eating and activity. Some 2,000 grocery stores in 17 states are slated to roll out the program this year.

None are in the Washington region. But some supermarkets here have started rating their products' nutritional content for consumers.

Harris Teeter, for example, has introduced "yourwellness," a program that rates its brands on 21 measures, from calcium and fat to sodium.

In the Take a Peak program, consumers will find aisle banners, kiosks and other displays in stores that will help point them to fare that is consistent with the dietary guidelines. For example, signs will remind them of how many servings of whole grains to eat daily (three) and then show them what foods equal a single serving.

This effort comes in response to a widely perceived problem with the 2005 food pyramid. The guidelines on which the pyramid is based were praised by nutrition and consumer groups. But the redesigned pyramid -- known as MyPyramid ( http://www.mypyramid.gov) -- was criticized for having little accessibility other than on the Web. The new displays will help put the government's message in front of shoppers as they roll their carts down grocery aisles.

Congress mandates an update of the guidelines every five years but provides little, if any, funding to publicize those revisions. So the Department of Agriculture, which shares responsibility for the guidelines with the Department of Health and Human Services, has been seeking public-private partnerships to help promote the nutritional and physical activity messages in MyPyramid.

"I am very pleased to see the food industry taking up the challenge to help consumers make healthier choices," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who helped unveil the program, which is sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association, the Food Marketing Institute and MatchPoint Marketing.

"We've had a tremendous response to MyPyramid," Johanns said. "And I'm confident that as awareness increases, so will the health of Americans."

To see what effect the program could have, the sponsors of Take a Peak commissioned four weeks' worth of sample menus aimed at helping women, ages 31 to 50, gradually adjust their diets to meet the MyPyramid standards. Women who follow the menus can learn how to eat according to the MyPyramid goals in about a month, said Betsy Hornick, a registered dietitian who planned the menus for the program.

While Take a Peak is drawing praise, it also has raised some concerns. "It raises the question of inconsistent standards," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The consumer advocacy group has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to establish consistent standards for healthy food.

"What's a consumer to do if one product has the Take a Peak logo and right next to it is a product that gets the American Heart Association logo for being a healthy food?" Jacobson asked. ยท

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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