what’s on my plateFew Americans Know or Heed U.S. Nutritional Guidelines

Here’s a quick quiz: What replaced the food pyramid, the government’s guide to healthy eating that has persisted for almost 20 years?

If you’re stumped, you’re not alone.

More than a decade after Agriculture Department officials abandoned the pyramid, few Americans have heard of MyPlate, the plate-shaped symbol that emphasizes fruits and vegetables.

Only about 25 percent of adults know about MyPlate, and fewer than 10 percent try to use the guide, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics. These figures for 2017-2020 show only a slight improvement compared to similar surveys conducted a few years ago.

That means the Obama administration’s program, which costs about $3 million a year, is not reaching most Americans, even as diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease continue to rise.

“This is the primary educational tool for communicating the guidelines for Americans right now,” said Edwina Wambogo, the study’s lead author and a nutritional epidemiologist at the agency. “MyPlate should do a little better.”

Food policy expert Marion Nestle said the results were not surprising.

“Why would anyone not expect that?” she said in an email. “MyPlate has never had an educational campaign, it’s outdated now, it’s all about healthy foods, it doesn’t say a word about unhealthy foods, and it’s so far removed from what Americans actually eat that it seems impossible to deliver.”

The agency’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget seeks to increase $3 million to $10 million a year to support the MyPlate campaign by expanding its reach and making recipes and other materials more culturally relevant, a senior USDA official said. .

“We absolutely want to make sure MyPlate and other important tools are in the hands of more people,” said Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Stacy Dean.

New research has found that people who rated their diet as excellent, very good or good were more likely to have heard of MyPlate than those who rated their diet as fair or poor. About a third of those who had heard of the program tried to follow it, the study found.

Launched in 2011, MyPlate has the backing of former first lady Michelle Obama, who has made healthy eating and exercise her focus.

It uses a serving plate with four colored sections for fruit, vegetables, grains, and protein, and smaller circles for dairy products like low-fat milk or yogurt. It encourages Americans to spread the word in a quick, accessible way to make half of their meals from fruits and vegetables.

But the guidelines leave out key details, said Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, a nutrition expert at UCLA.

“It doesn’t differentiate between starchy and non-starchy vegetables,” she said. “There’s no fat in there.”

Nestle added that MyPlate also does not recognize that vegetables, grains and dairy products also contain protein.

MyPlate replaces the USDA Food Pyramid, which was in use from 1992 to 2011. While it’s been recognized by generations of schoolchildren, nutritionists have criticized the pyramid for promoting too many carbohydrates and reducing fat through grains.

“It’s not the best set of recommendations on so many levels,” Surampudi said. “Our diabetes rates haven’t gone down. Our obesity rates haven’t gone down. It’s gone up.”

The new study calls for research into why some groups are less likely to know and follow government guidance — and how best to reach those who are eating poorly.

But it’s tricky, Surampudi said. In general, people now know that they should eat more fruits and vegetables. Beyond that, the information gets muddled.

“Once it gets a little messy, people stop,” she said.

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