Meals are served on plates so wouldn’t it be helpful to know how a properly filled plate should look?

In June, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced its food pyramid – for 20 years the guide for nutritious eating – with a plate divided into four colors and variously sized sections representing the amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins that should be consumed at every meal. Dairy products, like a glass of milk, were given their own smaller circle off to the side.

MyPlate is a visual presentation of a healthy meal, one that is half fruits and vegetables. The website, offering guidance for healthy meals, is a practical implementation of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the basis of U.S. nutritional policy.

“This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating, and as a mom, I can already tell how much this is going to help parents across the country,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, introduced the new icon to the public. “When mom or dad comes home from a long day of work, we’re already asked to be a chef, a referee, a cleaning crew. So it’s tough to be a nutritionist, too. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates. As long as they’re half full of fruits and vegetables and paired with lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, we’re golden. That’s how easy it is.”

The replacement of the multi-hued, multi-stepped food pyramid, which critics have long complained was too hard to follow, with the easier to understand plate comes amid soaring rates of obesity in the United States. More than 75 million Americans, one third of the population, are considered obese. Thirty-three percent of adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents between ages 2-19 years are at unhealthy weights. Obesity is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes, and today, the number of Americans with this disease has reached nearly 26 million. Excess weight also increases the risk for high blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases that kill more than 800,000 Americans every year as well as cancer, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and infertility.

Just because Americans can now look at a picture of a healthy, filled plate does not mean that they will follow suit, but USDA officials hope the model will inspire better eating habits.

“With so many food options available to consumers, it is often difficult to determine the best foods to put on our plates when building a healthy meal,” said Secretary Vilsack. “MyPlate is an uncomplicated symbol to help remind people to think about their food choices in order to lead healthier lifestyles. This effort is about more than just giving information, it is a matter of making people understand there are options and practical ways to apply them to their daily lives.”

The LHSFNA’s Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers manual and related brochures are being updated with the new USDA diagrams and information. They can be ordered through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]