Plates, Pyramids, and Childhood Obesity

plate and pyramid

On the right, we see the dietary icon introduced by the United States Department of Agriculture in the summer of 2011 as part of the national effort toward controlling childhood obesity. The unveiling was conducted by the Secretary of Agriculture and, of course, by First Lady Michelle Obama. (Caution: The picture on the left is not the old “food pyramid” that the plate replaced, but a satirical rendition of the old food pyramid, which is much more amusing.)

Some people also found the new “Choose My Plate” symbol humorous. “You’ve got to be kidding!,” they said, “Two million taxpayers’ dollars for that?”

Lois Rain wrote:

Millions for USDA research conducted via polls and surveys to realize that Americans weren’t looking at the pyramids, they were ‘too complicated.’ And even the ones who were following pyramid guides, were still growing obese or chronically ill with faulty, politically tainted ‘nutritional’ information…

This writer sees it as an insulting joke played on the average Joe, and at our expense. It has taken decades for the USDA to acknowledge that vegetable and fruit produce deserve some pull, but not too much of course, over wheat and grains. And this during a time when GMOs, pesticide use, weather damage, and prices are only on the rise.

Rain also recalled an old scandal, from back when the now-obsolete food pyramid was first instituted, noting that the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services did a bad thing at that time, when they appointed the members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The nutritional guidelines incorporated in the former pyramid were set by people known to have financial ties to the food industry. This time, the guidelines were set by the National Academy of Sciences.

Upon the debut of “Choose My Plate,” the Center for Science in the Public Interest called it a huge improvement over the old pyramid, which they termed “inscrutable.” But is the new design any more helpful?

For Fast Company, Rick Barrack wrote:

MyPlate’s dietary recommendations are still far from self-evident. It does away with the pyramid’s number of servings but doesn’t provide its own details about number and size of recommended portions. With 17% of U.S. children facing obesity, clear dietary guidelines should be available for families looking to make healthful choices. Unfortunately, MyPlate doesn’t measure up.

“Choose My Plate” was so unpopular in some quarters that a few months after its introduction, Harvard Medical School came out with its own version, the “Healthy Eating Plate.” Harvard complained that the government version makes no distinction between whole grains and refined grains. There was particular objection to the inclusion of dairy products for every meal, because that adds up to too much saturated fat.

On the other hand, there isn’t enough guidance about fats, which should not be totally left out:

Fat is not the culprit to poor health. Bad fats are the culprit. Good fats like olive oil and avocado are totally missing from the plate. Without guidance, consumers would gravitate to tasty saturated fats which are hazardous to cardiovascular health.

While the new plate encourages people to make fruits and vegetable at least half their diet, and while the potato is a vegetable, objections were still heard from the potato industry because its place in school lunch programs was to be demoted. Now, there can only be about two servings per week of potatoes. The potato suppliers were upset, pointing out that their vegetable is only dangerous to health if it is fried. Sure, limit or get rid of the French fries — but don’t blame potatoes in other forms! This was controversial enough to stimulate about 40 members of Congress, from both parties, to make inquiries at the USDA.

Then, there is the big question: Will taking away potatoes automatically cause the increased consumption of the more colorful and nutritious vegetables?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “New Food Plate — $2 Mill For Colored Preschool Shapes,”, 06/03/11
Source: “The Brain Dead Design Behind The USDA’s New Dietary Chart,”
Source: “What the Bleep is Wrong With MyPlate,” FitCommerce,com, 10/29/11
Source: “Is there room on the plate for Idaho potatoes?,” McClatchy, 06/06/11
Images by USDA (“Choose My Plate,” right) and Author Unknown.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources