First lady Michelle Obama on Thursday relegated the government’s well-known food pyramid to the sands of history, unveiling a new, simpler image of a plate divided into basic food groups.
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The new design was conceived as a crucial part of Mrs. Obama’s campaign against obesity, by reminding consumers about the basics of a healthy diet.
The plate is split into four sections, for fruit, vegetables, grains and protein. A smaller circle sits beside it for dairy.
Mrs. Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin unveiled the new healthy eating icon at a press conference in Washington.
Officials said they planned to use the plate in a campaign to communicate essential dietary guidelines to consumers, emphasizing one message at a time for best effect.
The first part of the campaign will encourage people to make half their plate fruit and vegetables. Later phases of the campaign will instruct consumers to avoid oversize portions, enjoy their food but eat less of it and to drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Nutritionists often criticized the food pyramid, which was first released in 1992, for being either misleading or hard to understand. They gave the plate cautious praise.
“It’s better than the pyramid but that’s not saying a lot,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University.
She praised the plate for being generally easy to understand, But she said that labeling a large section of the plate “protein” was confusing and unnecessary, since grains and dairy also are important sources of protein and most Americans get far more protein than they need.
But she said the emphasis on fruits and vegetables was a significant step.
“Americans aren’t used to eating this way so this is a big change,” Ms. Nestle said.
The plate was created by the Department of Agriculture with input from the first lady’s anti-obesity team and federal health officials. The agriculture department said that it conducted focus groups with about 4,500 people, including children, as they developed the new icon. Developing the icon and creating a website and other educational materials to go along with it cost about $2 million. That money will also help pay for an educational campaign centered on the plate icon over the next year, officials said.