Food Guide Pyramid
The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) just concluded the public input phase of the redesign of its ubiquitous Food Pyramid. The USDA will unveil its new Food Guidance System, as it is now called, by early 2005.
According to Dr. Eric Hentges, Executive Director of CNPP, the USDA plans to retain the pyramid shape as it is well known throughout the country. However, the content will change. The bottom portion of the current Food Pyramid, with its 7-11 servings of grain-based foods, has come under significant attack as a primary contributor to obesity. Vegetable oils will have a more prominent place in the new version, along with fruits and vegetables. Meat and saturated fats, of course, will remain as the scapegoat for heart disease.
On August 19, USDA held a public forum at which 27 organizations presented their views. My comments on behalf of the Foundation were sandwiched in between those of Dr. Stuart Trager of the Atkins Nutritional Approach and Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute. Most of the remaining commenters were from food industry associations. As you may know, Atkins and Ornish are on the opposite sides of the spectrum when protein sources are considered. Atkins advocates high meat and saturated fat consumption while Ornish relegates such to the garbage heap. Both advocate the consumption of soy products.
I presented our recommendation to scrap the food pyramid and recommend daily consumption of high-quality, unprocessed foods from each of the following four groups:
- Animal foods: meat, poultry, fish, eggs and whole milk products
- Grains and legumes: whole grain baked goods, breakfast porridges, beans
- Fruits and Vegetables: preferably fresh or frozen
- Fats and Oils: unrefined saturated and monounsaturated fats including butter and other animal fats, palm oil and coconut oil, olive oil and peanut oil
We have also recommended the following words:
- Eat sparingly: sweets, white flour products, soft drinks, processed foods, polyunsaturated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and fried foods.
The full text of my August 19, 2004 oral presentation can found here (PDF). In addition, on August 26, 2004, the Weston A. Price Foundation submitted an extensive set of written comments to the USDA on the Food Pyramid (PDF). These comments, totaling 71 pages, provide scientific validation for our recommendations.
On September 21, 2004, Sally Fallon testified before the staff of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (PDF) on the recently released Report of the Committee, which was submitted to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The full Committee Report can be found at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/report/. Sally focused her comments on the fatty acid section of the Report, pointing out the importance of saturated fats in human diets.
The Foundation submitted 48 pages of written comments on the Report (PDF) on September 27, 2004.
Child Nutrition Act
On June 30, President Bush signed into law the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. This legislative process began two years ago (typical for Congressional action) with hearings in both the House and Senate. The Foundation met with staff from every Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and House Education and Welfare Committee, which have jurisdiction over child nutrition, to present our recommendations.
We are happy to say that a number of recommendations we initiated or supported made their way into the final cut of the legislation signed by President Bush and approved by both the House and Senate:
- Fruit and vegetable pilot program is extended and expanded to 8 states and 3 Indian Reservations;
- Access and funding for school garden programs is expanded;
- Schools cannot restrict, directly or indirectly, the sale or marketing of “fluid milk products” by the school at any time or place on school premises or at any school-sponsored event [i.e., they cannot restrict vending machine sales to soft drinks];
- USDA is required to encourage schools to purchase locally produced foods–to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate. Startup grants are to be provided to not more than 200 institutions to defray the initial costs of equipment, materials, and storage facilities (and similar costs) incurred in carrying out this policy;
- USDA must develop policy regarding irradiated foods including stipulations that the purchase or receipt of irradiated products must be at the request of a state or district; no additional reimbursement is made for irradiated foods; states and schools provide factual information about irradiation; provides model procedures for providing information; irradiated products are labeled as such; irradiated products are not co-mingled with non-irradiated products; schools offer alternative, non-irradiated products if they offer irradiated products;
- Requires schools participating in school meal programs to establish a local “school wellness policy” that, at a minimum, includes goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other school-based activities designed to promote student wellness, and includes the participation of parents;
- Schools are to increase availability of physical activity;
- Requires USDA to conduct a scientific review of the foods made available under the WIC program and amend the foods offered as necessary to reflect nutrition science, public health concerns and cultural eating patterns–as frequently as determined necessary by the USDA to reflect the most recent scientific knowledge;
- Expands breastfeeding information and coaching for WIC participants; and
- Expands WIC farmers’ market nutrition program.
Unfortunately, the following provisions did not meet our recommendations:
- Meals served by schools participating in the school lunch program: must offer fluid milk in a variety of fat contents (low fat and skim milk will gain in popularity over whole milk); may offer flavored and unflavored fluid milk and lactose-free fluid milk; and must provide a fluid milk substitute (i.e., soy milk) for students whose “disability” restricts their diet on the receipt of a written statement from a licensed physician that identifies the “disability” and specifies the substitute;
- USDA must issue regulations that reflect specific recommendations (expressed as serving sizes) for increased consumption of foods and food ingredients in school nutrition programs based on the most recent Dietary Guidelines and Food Pyramid (Dietary Guidelines promote use of refined polyunsaturated oils, starches and processed foods over natural foods).
In the US Congress, prominent senators from both political parties have introduced sweeping new anti-obesity legislation –but timing is about the only thing the bills have in common. Senators Bill Frist (R-TN.) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) authored the Childhood Obesity Reduction Act, which would earmark $2.2 million in fiscal 2005 to create the Congressional Council to Combat Childhood Obesity. The Council “would highlight successful [school] programs, develop model nutrition and exercise plans for schools, and coordinate outreach and public awareness efforts,” Frist said, “After two years of identifying and selecting model programs, the Council will create a public-private foundation that will award grants to schools that wish to implement model anti-obesity programs.” The Frist-Wyden bill was endorsed by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which called it the “right approach to creating healthy habits” in children. Endorsement by the Grocers’ group makes this bill very suspect.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has created the Healthy Lifestyles and Prevention (HeLP) America Act (S. 2558) to fight chronic diseases and obesity. The legislation would “help kids develop improved eating habits by putting fresh fruits and vegetables in school, and taking junk food out,” Harkin’s office said in a statement. “It also takes on the tidal wave of ads in schools and on TV pushing junk foods on our kids.” The bill would also promote “healthier” communities and workplaces by “encouraging new road construction that accommodates bicycles and pedestrians;” implement mandatory menu labeling at chain restaurants; and expand Harkin’s program for providing schools with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Lastly, more than 110 obesity-related bills have been introduced by state legislatures since in 2004 –just a few shy of the record 120-plus measures launched during all of 2003 –proving that obesity continues to be one of the hottest political issues in the country. Many of these bills deal with some aspect of school nutrition, such as restricting the types of foods sold in school cafeterias or vending machines. The remaining bills tackle obesity lawsuits, insurance coverage for obesity surgery and miscellaneous measures.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2004.