Friday, June 3, 2011

MyPlate Introduced. Now What?

The endless junk food aisle 
Yesterday was a big day in the world of nutrition. The 20 year old Food Pyramid was retired by the USDA and the new MyPlate was unveiled. The new food guide shows a plate with four sections for the basic food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables and protein. To the side is a cup of dairy. The new food icon was introduced by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and First Lady Michelle Obama at a press conference yesterday morning. Vilsack commented that the personal health of the nation is as important to the wellbeing of the country as its fiscal and economic health. It is an issue of national security when many youth are too overweight and unfit to protect the country. Dr. Benjamin concurred that childhood obesity is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. She stated that the goal of the new food icon is to provide clear and simple information based on science to guide the American people to make healthier food choices. First Lady Michelle Obama commented, "What is more simple than a plate?"

Michelle Obama goes on to say that there is still work to be done in leading our nation toward health. I can't agree more! I like the simplicity of the icon and the message to the American people to eat less that is a central tenet of the Dietary Guidelines. But I wonder if this new food guide will have any impact upon the way that Americans eat?

At the Future of Food Conference in Washington, DC last month, Secretary Vilsack commented that the way farm subsidies are appropriated will change with the new Farm Bill. He hopes to empower more small family operated farms which means decreasing (or ending) the subsidies paid to larger agribusinesses. To me, this is a more important step in changing the US food and health environments than the combined efforts of the new MyPlate, Dietary Guidelines and universal health insurance. The endless aisles of junk foods, cereals and beverages are directly related to subsidies paid to grow corn, wheat and soy which allowed the creation of cheap processed foods. Cheap processed foods are bad for health for many reasons, one of which is that they displace healthier foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. When soft drinks and junk foods are more expensive and vegetables and fruits are less expensive, Americans will buy less junk. When we see smaller displays of junk foods at the grocery store, then we'll know that we are moving in the right direction.

Vilsack goes on to say at the MyPlate press conference yesterday that you have to walk the talk. He tells a story of how the new icon influenced him recently at a dinner where he was served a piece of steak that covered more than half his plate. He purposefully didn't eat it all. I hope Congress has the same good sense when it comes to passing a Farm Bill that will change the US food and health environments. Congress will have to turn a deaf ear to the wealthy and powerful food lobbies and do the right thing for the American people by voting to reduce subsidies to large agribusiness. Our national security depends upon it.

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