What replaced America’s food pyramid? Few know the answer

Here’s a quick quiz: What’s the location of the Food Pyramid, the government’s guide to healthy eating that’s been around for almost 20 years?

If you’re stumped, you’re not alone.

More than a decade after Agriculture Department officials dug up the pyramid, few Americans have heard of MyPlate, the dinner plate-shaped logo that emphasizes fruits and vegetables.

According to a study released Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics, only 25% of adults knew about MyPlate — and less than 10% had tried using the guidance. These figures for 2017-2020 show a slight improvement over the same survey conducted a few years earlier.

That means the Obama administration’s program, which costs about $3 million a year, has not reached most Americans, even as diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to rise.

“This is currently the primary education tool that communicates the guidelines to Americans,” said the study’s lead author, Edwina Wambogo, the agency’s nutrition epidemiologist. “MyPlate should do a little better.”

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Food policy expert Marion Nestle said the results were hardly surprising.

“Why would anyone expect otherwise?” she said in an email. “MyPlate never came up with an education campaign, so far it’s old hat, dealing only with healthy foods, saying nothing about unhealthy foods, and far from what Americans are actually eating.”

A top USDA official said the agency’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget seeks to increase the MyPlate campaign by $3 million to $10 million annually to promote it by expanding its reach and making recipes and other materials more culturally relevant.

“We absolutely want to make sure MyPlate and other important tools are in the hands of more people,” said Stacey Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

A new study found that people who rated their diet as excellent, very good or good were more likely to have heard of MyPlate than those who said their diet was fair or poor. Of those who heard about the plan, about one-third tried to follow it, the study found.

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MyPlate was introduced in 2011 with the high-profile endorsement of former First Lady Michelle Obama, who focused on healthy eating and exercise.

He uses a dinner plate with four colored sections for fruit, vegetables, grains and protein, with a smaller circle for dairy products such as low-fat milk or yogurt. It encourages Americans to make up half of their meals from fruits and vegetables in what is promoted as a quick, easily accessible format.

But the guidelines left out crucial details, Dr. said Vijaya Surampudi, a nutritionist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It doesn’t differentiate between starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables,” she said. “There is no fat.”

MyPlate also does not acknowledge that vegetables, grains and dairy foods also contain protein, Nestlé added.

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MyPlate replaced the USDA’s Food Pyramid, which was used from 1992 to 2011. Although it was recognized by generations of school children, nutritionists criticized the pyramid for promoting too many carbohydrates through grains and cutting back on fat.

“It was not the best set of recommendations on many levels,” Surampudi said. “Our diabetes rates have not gone down. Our obesity rates have not decreased. He went up.”

A new study calls for research into why some groups are less likely to be aware of and follow government guidance – and how to reach those with poor diets.

But it is difficult, Surampudi said. In general, people now know that they should eat more fruits and vegetables. Beyond that, the message gets muddled.

“When it gets a little confusing, people get turned off,” she said.


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