May 31, 2011 -- The iconic Food Pyramid is coming down on June 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells WebMD in an exclusive interview.
What will it be? The USDA won't say until June 2 -- but WebMD sources confirm media reports that the new icon will be a plate, showing the relative proportions of healthy foods one should eat at each meal.
Why a new icon? The pyramid really does not capture the public's attention anymore, and the new icon heralds a "monumental effort" to improve America's health, Robert C. Post, PhD, deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, tells WebMD.
"Consumers can look forward to a new, simple, easy-to-understand cue to prompt healthy choices," Post tells WebMD. "You will get this monumental effort across all agencies as well as the private sector. A partnership with the goal of improving the health of all Americans."
"This icon really has the potential to trigger an 'aha!' moment, where people say, 'Hey, this is not that hard, I can do this,'" says Kathleen Zelman, RD, WebMD's Director of Nutrition, who is familiar with the USDA plan. "These 'aha!' moments are what make people finally change their behavior."
The release of the icon marks the launch of a massive effort to promote the USDA/HHS dietary guidelines announced last January.
New Diet Icon Marks New U.S. Health Strategy
You'll be seeing the icon everywhere. Every relevant federal agency will be doing its part. The White House will play a leading role, coordinating the new USDA/HHS dietary guidelines with Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative.
The old diet plan was to tell Americans what they should eat and hope for the best. The new plan is vastly more active and will reach people at home, at school, at work, at play, and especially at supermarkets and restaurants.
"What we learned is it is not just giving information, it is a matter of making people understand there are options and practical ways to apply this to their lifestyle," Post says. "There will be a 'how-to' that will resonate with individuals. That is the behavioral part that is needed. We need to transcend information -- 'here's what the science says' -- and give people the tools and the opportunities to take action."
There are six how-to messages to guide healthy eating:
- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Avoid oversized portions.
- Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose the foods with lower numbers.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Doing all of this at once may be too much to swallow. So the USDA plan is to stress one idea at a time.
First up will be the "make half of your plate fruits and vegetables" advice. It will be supported by a wide array of guidance on exactly how to do this. For example, one might add fruit to a leafy green salad. Or replace a sugary dessert with a bowl of fruit.
Post notes that the government can't do this alone. Key to the plan is a myriad of private/public partnerships with a wide variety of businesses ranging from grocery to media companies.
"The fact they are reaching out to a broad partnership is important, because we need all the ammunition we can get to fight the epidemics of obesity and diabetes," Zelman says.