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AUTHORS: Eric Hentges
ABSTRACT: The U.S. government will refashion its Food Guide Pyramid to help pear-shaped Americans eat less and exercise more.
COMMENTARY: With two thirds of Americans either overweight or obese, consumers have largely ignored the government's dietary guidelines, and keep eating too many sweets and fats rather than more fruits and vegetables.
"We've got to do something to get a behavioral change," said Eric Hentges, director of U.S. Agriculture Department's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. The USDA and the Health and Human Services are responsible for federal nutrition policy.
Developed in 1992, the Food Guide Pyramid offers a general outline for how much a healthy person should eat each day from the five major food groups.
The Pyramid is the main educational tool used to help consumers interpret the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which will be revised in 2005.
Hentges said the USDA is reviewing every aspect of the Food Guide Pyramid, so consumers can make nutritional choices that are "adequate, but moderate."
Depending on how food producers, consumer advocates and other interested parties respond to the proposal, the pyramid could take a different shape when the revisions are published in February 2005. No new shapes have been proposed, Hentges said.
For the first time, the USDA is taking into account that most Americans do not exercise regularly. "Given the sedentary lifestyles of many Americans, it was considered better not to assume any specific level of physical activity," the USDA said.
Hentges said the department may focus its new educational materials on consumers with sedentary lifestyles. More active individuals would be encouraged to obtain more specific dietary information through a government Web site.
The USDA said its publications would encourage regular exercise.
USDA's proposal also takes into consideration recent concerns over trans fats and the benefits of whole grains. Under the proposal, the USDA offers significantly more detail on the amount of calories certain groups should consume on a daily basis.
Groups are based on age, sex and level of exercise. The proposed recommended servings of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and milk are based on 12 calorie levels ranging from 1000 to 3200 calories daily. The current Pyramid bases food portions on only three levels--1600, 2200 and 2800 calories.
An example, a 25-year-old female who doesn't exercise needs about 2000 calories per day. While a woman of the same age who walks 3 miles a day needs 400 more calories to maintain her weight.