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Climbing the food pyramid

For those who have been holding their breath in anticipation, or maybe sucking in their gut, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released the new version of the food pyramid that is supposed to lead everyone to a healthier lifestyle and put a stop to the rampant obesity in our country.

The new pyramid has a snappy little guy walking up its side, which represents the need for exercise, and features vertical bands of color instead of the horizontal food group blocks of the past. Already the pyramid makes us feel less fat, because we all know how slimming vertical stripes are. The color bands all have slightly different widths, which hint at how much of each food group to consume. (However, if you want to know what color band represents which food group, you'll have to go to the auxiliary information -- it isn't part of the new and improved graphic.)

But, the pyramid still has that heavy-bottomed look that too closely resembles the average American in a bathing suit. There's no longer any reason for the pyramid shape if it doesn't demonstrate the recommended amounts of food groups starting at the broad base and working up to a tiny point for the "bad" foods.

Why can't we have a food guide shaped like a svelte soda bottle? It could still have the six vertical stripes and it would inspire us to shape up for the summer swim season.

Despite its stout silhouette, the new pyramid is supposed to point us toward better eating habits and its focus can be summed up in three phrases: make smart choices from every food group, find the balance between food and physical activity, and get the most nutrition out of the calories consumed.

Those are excellent suggestions, but that sound advice took $2.5 million and four years to complete. It sounds so much like the old fashioned, common sense advice long spoken by our elders, but it's far from archaic. This is a high tech enterprise, with clever on-line interactive charts and lots and lots of information. For a graphic that was designed to be simple, it certainly is complex.

Paradoxically, it seems this elaborate on-line guide will keep people glued to the screen plugging in personal data for an individual food plan instead of outside taking a walk.

Personalizing diet and exercise has always been a good idea, which may be the best thing about the new pyramid. It recognizes one plan doesn't fit everyone.

The new pyramid boils down to a nugget of truth that so many of us want to avoid: each of us needs to take responsibility for personal eating and exercise habits. Sitting in front of a computer playing with the pyramid web site will not lead to better health, but getting out of that office chair might.

Web posted on Thursday, May 5, 2005


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