Wed, Jan-28-04, 16:10
Location: King Country New Zealand
'New Food Pyramid'
New 'Food Pyramid' to Address Obesity Epidemic
By Todd Zwillich
WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) Jan 28 - The US government is moving to revamp its famous "food pyramid" dietary guidelines amid concerns that the increasingly obese American population is not getting the message about proper nutrition and exercise.
Officials said that the new guidelines -- due to be released in the summer in draft form and finalized in January, 2005 -- will likely reflect a key part of weight control that millions of Americans are missing: Burning calories through physical activity is as important as watching what you eat.
"Making sure you've got your energy well in mind...has got to be a greater goal," said Dr. Eric Hentges, director of the center for nutrition policy and promotion at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The current food pyramid hanging in health clinics and school lunchrooms throughout the nation was released in 1992 with an emphasis on carbohydrates from bread and grains and at least five servings per day of fruits and vegetables. Obesity has risen steadily since then, and today an estimated 61 percent of American adults are obese or overweight.
Hentges told reporters Wednesday that the pyramid was not a failure, but that it did not take into account the entire picture of what is causing Americans to gain weight in such alarming numbers. "The focus was not on obesity and overweight in 1992," he said.
A USDA advisory panel is meeting today and tomorrow in Washington to hear recommendations on how the agency should change the pyramid.
"It's very important to have physical activity on the pyramid. It's certainly as important as dietary intake," Dr. Frank Hu, a researcher at the Harvard University School of Public Health told the panel, which is made up of food industry representatives, nutrition experts, and consumer groups.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults do 30 minutes of moderate exercise like walking or bike riding each day. More than 60 percent of adults do not achieve that level, according to the agency.
Officials are retooling the pyramid to reflect new nutritional recommendations laid out by the National Academies of Science in August 2002. Studies have shown that average Americans eat far more fat and sugar and far less fresh fruits and vegetables than the recommendations call for.
For example, the average woman would have to eat 52 percent more fruit to meet nutritional requirements, while the average man would have to eat more than double the amount of fruit he currently eats to be in line with what experts recommend.
Experts expressed alarm at Americans' apparent lack of interest in dark-green vegetables like spinach and legumes like peas and beans, two food groups that deliver a wide range of nutrients while keeping calories low. The average woman needs to eat 330 percent more dark green vegetables and the average man 406 percent more to meet recommendations, according to USDA data.
Meanwhile, consumers report in surveys that they eat twice as much sugar and fat as they should based on recommended daily caloric intake.
"We have a lot of competition," said Dr. Janet C. King, referring to widespread food advertising and diet aids that send mixed signals about eating right and losing weight.
Hentges told reporters that the government was unlikely to attempt a drastic overhaul of its dietary and activity guidelines despite the out-of-control obesity epidemic.
"We got to this thing by 200 calories per day over the year" instead of by huge amounts of overeating, he said. "We are going to have to reduce it with the same small steps."
Hentges also suggested that the nation must find a way soon to stem the obesity problem. "We don't have time to dink around with this," he said
This quote is from Medscape.com Diabetes & Endocrinology newsletter.
It doesn't sound as though there will be much in the way of changes anytime soon... Eve