The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new Food Guide Pyramid. There was talk of making it a different shape, like maybe a plate, but they ended up keeping the pyramid. Before they released the new version in April 2005, we asked kids what shape they would like the Food Guide to be.
A Food Guide Scooby Doo?
So what shapes did kids suggest? How about the Food Guide Lava Lamp - or the Food Guide Flower? Animals were big. Would you like the Food Guide Frog or the Food Guide Dog? Marissa, 12, even suggested a cartoon dog - the Food Guide Scooby Doo.
"He is my favorite character on TV and I know a lot of people would pay more attention to the good food groups," she said.
Hey, Marissa is on to something. If the new food guide is something kids like and understand, they might listen to the message it's trying to send about what to eat. Everybody wants kids to hear this message so they eat nutritious foods, feel good, and grow up healthy.
The Shape Matters
If the new food guide were Scooby Doo, it might get your attention, but it probably wouldn't say much about healthy eating. The shape of this nutrition symbol is important.
Thirteen years ago, experts picked the pyramid shape because it could be divided into sections and those sections were different sizes. Different food groups were placed in these different sections. The bigger sections could show people that they should eat a lot of those. And the tiny tip, where fats, sweets, and oils are, could show people that they don't need as much of those foods.
In the new version, the foods are vertical stripes to show that variety is very important. One side of the new pyramid also features a little guy running up the stairs. That's to show people they need to be active and eat right!
Kids Get a Pat on the Back
We asked some nutrition experts about the ideas that kids sent us. The ones they liked best were those that made this connection between the shape and the message the shape sends. What do we mean? Some shapes would be fun to look at, but other shapes help say something about healthy eating.
"It sounds to me like we should have engaged these kids in this decision a long time ago," Dr. William Dietz said.
Hey, that's a big compliment to kids! Dr. Dietz has a top job at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heading up the division on nutrition and physical activity. His job is to figure out ways to help kids and adults eat healthy and get plenty of physical activity.
Another nutrition expert also praised the creative suggestions. Dr. Marion Nestle is a professor at New York University and has written books about food and nutrition.
Dr. Nestle said: "What's so impressive about the ideas in your set are that they deal with the real issues: eating healthfully, eating less, being active, and not eating too much junk food. Good advice for everyone!"
Dr. Dietz liked the Food Guide Human Body, suggested by McKinzie, 11. She explained her choice this way: "The human body reminds us of the fact that you are what you eat."
McKinzie made different parts of the body stand for different foods. For instance, the heart would be vegetables because they're heart-healthy foods. The legs would be grains - for energy. Bones would be dairy products and the arms would be meat to keep your muscles strong. Just the tongue would stand for sweets, fats, and oils, which are "a good thing in small amounts," she said.
"McKinzie has this right," Dr. Dietz said.
He also liked suggestions for a Food Guide Star and a Food Guide Sun. Brandi, 9, suggested the sun because of "the beams of health beaming down on us."
Dietitian Marilyn Tanner also liked the kids' ideas for the new pyramid. Tanner said it's a good idea for kids to learn about the Food Guide Pyramid. She teaches a class about healthy habits for kids and parents through St. Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri. Tanner, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says that when kids understand something about eating healthy sometimes they can teach their parents!
"I wish there could be a Pyramid song to go along with it," she said. Then, like the songs in the old "Schoolhouse Rock" series, kids would know it by heart.
Saying Goodbye to the Old Pyramid
Now that there's a new pyramid, kids will have to get adjusted to it. For instance, grains are no longer on the bottom. Instead, grains are represented by the orange stripe on the new pyramid. Some kids said they were ready for the pyramid to be a new shape. When we asked Sharmaine, 10, if she'd miss the old pyramid, she wrote "No" 47 times!
Grace, 12, agreed: "A pyramid wasn't so exciting for the children to follow, so a new, funky one would be exciting!"
But Dana, 13, said she will miss the old pyramid because the new one will probably discourage too much white bread and pasta. "That stuff is good!"
To older people, like your parents, the old Food Guide Pyramid still seems kind of new. (They grew up learning about the 4 basic food groups.) But the old pyramid was around for 13 years - as long as many kids have been alive! So it's OK if you think you'll miss it a little now that the new one has arrived.
Jordan, 11, put it this way: "It is pretty hard to change something that you've known all your life and expect to learn it easily ... What will they be changing next? The alphabet?"
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 2005