Registered dietitian Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., shares her assessment of the USDA’s newest dietary initiative, MyPlate. Melinda discusses the mission of MyPlate, where the program falls short, and the need for incorporating organics into the fight against obesity.
The Food Guide Pyramid is so… yesterday. MyPyramid has been replaced with MyPlate, a less complicated symbol to help guide our food choices. The new icon comes in the shape of a dinner plate, divided into four sections (fruits, vegetables, grains and protein), plus a side of dairy – all depicted by different colored shapes.
The mission behind MyPlate: reduce childhood obesity, which threatens their future, and weakens our national economy and security.
“If we’re serious about health care costs,” says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, then “we have to focus on preventive health – diet and exercise.” MyPlate gives consumers a guide to “invest in the future.”
Time will tell if the new minimalist graphic can help shift our nation’s eating habits, but I’m a bit skeptical. My 30 years as a dietitian taught me that the environment in which we live, and the policies that create those environments, contribute the most to poor eating habits, obesity and chronic disease. Unless we make healthy eating and active living the easiest and most affordable choices, even our most well-intentioned graphics won’t deliver desired outcomes.
For example, most consumers already know they should eat more fruits and vegetables, but access and affordability get in the way of making healthier choices.
Many of today’s schools struggle with shrinking budgets, so they rely on fast food and soft drink sales to fund playground or sports equipment. Next add seductive advertising into the mix. Public health campaigns simply don’t have the dollars to compete with savvy neuro-marketing strategies.
Here’s an example of what we’re up against: the USDA will spend $2.9 million over three years on the MyPlate icon and message campaign. Yet in 2008 alone, a leading fast food giant spent $1.2 billion promoting foods inconsistent with the MyPlate mission.
Perhaps we’d be more successful filling half our plates with fruits and vegetables – one of the key MyPlate messages — if we used the $2.9 million to create organic school gardens and teaching kitchens in every school district, because changing our built environment is key to reaching healthy eating goals.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who joined Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and Secretary Vilsack in unveiling MyPlate, understands this. She knows the icon alone won’t be enough to reverse our national obesity trends. But she believes that along with related social media and web-based “how-to” tools for meal planning, we can “build momentum” and take an “enormous step in the right direction” towards making smarter food choices.
Personally, the overly simplified “MyPlate” icon leaves me hungry for images of beautiful real food. And the accompanying key messages from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines (avoid oversized portions; make half your plate fruits and vegetables; choose foods with less sodium; drink water instead of sugary drinks; and switch to low-fat milk), fall woefully short by not recommending the value of organic foods.
For example, the recently released President’s Cancer Panel Report specifically advises choosing foods produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones. And the Food and Drug Administration has identified the dangers of antibiotic resistance, fueled by the misuse of routine sub-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock. There’s growing evidence that endocrine disrupting pesticides can contribute to obesity as well.
Our nation’s most updated dietary advice may ignore the advantages of organic food and farming, but we don’t have to remain silent. Share the links below with your friends and family, and jump into social media networks.
Help your friends understand that it’s not enough to seek out “low-fat” dairy, but to ask how your dairy cows were raised. The healthiest dairy comes from organic cows raised on plenty of pasture, without antibiotics, hormones, and genetically engineered grain.
Similarly, explain that filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables is great advice, but we don’t want to feed our children chemical residues of neurotoxins along with health-supporting nutrients.
As part of the MyPlate campaign, the USDA wants us to take a photo of our plate and share it on Twitter with the hash-tag #MyPlate. USDA also wants to see where and when consumers think about healthy eating. Snap a photograph of your healthiest organic meals and share them with the USDA Flickr Photo Group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/choosemyplate/
Learn more and share these links:
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign: www.LetsMove.gov
Environmental Health Perspectives: The role of pesticides and endocrine disruptors in the development of obesity and chronic diseases:
The President’s Cancer Panel Report: http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf
Antibiotic Resistance: www.keepantibioticsworking.com/new/index.cfm
Find pesticide residues on your food: www.whatsonmyfood.org/banner.jsp
You can also read Melinda Hemmelgarn’s Organic Moment Story at yourorganicmoment.com.