My Problem with MyPyramid
There’s been a recent blanketing of ads in DC for the MyPyramid.gov website which was supposed to replace the old Food Pyramid that I grew up knowing. It’s not really new because the website was released in 2005, I think, so it’s actually pretty dated in terms of the Internet.
Regardless, I thought I would write a few words on the thing because the government is apparently trying to draw attention to the service again. I think they are also planning on releasing an updated version in 2010.
I wanted to voice a few concerns because I played around on the site a bit and found some troubling things. Also, I think the whole ad campaign is kind of ridiculous.
The Copy. Ok. This is a small point, but I find it odd that the apparent poster-things for this new “healthy living” is two overweight animals and a ridiculously skinny kid. I get it. They are trying to be fun and hip, but using a popular 60s cartoon isn’t really conveying what they should be conveying: Eating a healthy diet is REALLY important.
I know that they are trying to make healthy eating fun, and it definitely can be, but it isn’t all about fun. While I can see why the government would never do this, I want to see a TRUTH kind of ad campaign about healthy eating. Show an 800 pound person who can’t walk. Show an 80 pound model with an eating disorder. Show me the real side of unhealthy eating. Maybe that will get me thinking about it.
As is, this ad just makes me think that the fast food burger I’m about to shove in my face is okay, as long as I apparently stand on one foot while eating it.
The Logo. I had a serious problem with the old food pyramid because it didn’t actually reflect what people should be eating. Since when do I need 11 servings of grains in my day? And only 4 servings of vegetables? Shouldn’t that be switched? Probably.
But the new logo isn’t that much better because it shows all pieces as equal. What good does that do me? Sure they added a little guy on stairs to imply I should exercise which is good. But the food part of the pyramid leaves me guessing. I mean, if I’m supposed to know what to eat based off this diagram, it is a complete and horrible failure.
The Service. Both the logo failure and the ad issues could be completely overlooked if the website offered some valuable services, but I think they miss the mark here also. And here is where I think they could make some improvements.
Anyone can go to the mypyramid.gov site and after a few questions you can go start designing menus with helpful nutritional guidelines. The site gives you the option to just maintain your current weight or gradually reduce your weight. These all seem like good things. After testing this though, I have to say it, also, is a pretty large failure.
I started by entering my info: 26 year old male. 180 pounds. 5 foot 10 inches tall. I hit continue and got this warning:
The weight you entered is above the healthy range for your height. This may increase your risk for health problems. Some people who are overweight should consider weight loss. For more information about health risks and whether you should try to lose weight click here, or talk with your health care provider.
What the hell? Did this website just call me fat? Now let me be clear. I don’t have ripped abs and I’m kind of a stocky guy, but I’m not unhealthy! I run like 3 times a week. I took a few deep breaths and continued, choosing that I would like to please reduce my weight to a healthy weight.
The next screen gave me high hopes! They had dietary guidelines for fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, etc. They also had a search where I could search for food and then select the dish and it would do all the calculations for me!
These were the daily nutritional guidelines they gave someone with my height/weight who is moderately active:
- 10 ounces of grains (half of which are whole grains)
- 3.5 cups vegetables
- 2.5 cups fruits
- 3 cups of milk (ugh. I hate milk.)
- 7 ounces meat or beans
- 8 Teaspoons oils/fats
- 2800 total calories
- 425 of those calories can be “extras” such as alcohol, saturated fats, etc. Sweet.
I guess those are okay guidelines. This is where it gets fun though. That is where the guidelines stop. This is the daily menu I made that completely fits my nutritional profile:
Breakfast (I like a big breakfast):
- 2 Cups of plain oatmeal (gotta have oatmeal)
- 1.5 Cups of broccoli cheese soup (why not?)
- 8 spears of cooked asparagus with Mayonnaise
- 2 bloody marys
Lunch (A light lunch to knock off some things):
- 2 apples
- 1.5 cups of refreshing carrot juice
- 2 fried chicken breasts without the skin but with ranch dressing
- 1 1/2 Cups fat free milk
- 2 Cups of pasta with margarine
Ok. Now obviously, I played around with the meal times to have some fun, but there are some serious problems with this system. Most importantly, it doesn’t account for varied foods. If the only thing I ever eat is apples, then I will meet my fruit requirements but probably be lacking in some vitamins.
Secondly, the tool is just too specific for its own good. There is no way that the government knows (talk about Big Brother) that my fried chicken breast has the same calories as their fried chicken breast. I guarantee that two fried chicken breasts with ranch dressing from some fast food restaurants would completely blow my daily allowance of fat and calories. But someone who was legitimately trying to use this service might be confused.
Nick’s Fixes. Ok. I’ve been kind of a Negative Nelly on this post so far, but I actually have high hopes for the next release. I think it’s really important that the government start flexing its muscles with healthy nutritional education. Here are two things I thought of quickly that might be improvements.
Scale back the database. Instead of pushing information to people (a fried chicken breast has 223 calories), work on a campaign to empower the individual. Get people used to the idea of checking nutritional information so they know what they are eating at that moment. Couple that with some basic nutritional guidelines and you can cancel all the useless database menu planning. Let people plan their own menus, just give them better guidelines and teach them how to find the information they need.
Get a better logo. I think this logo should convey something to the person looking at it about proportions and food types. The current logo is a huge failure. If I were them, I would consider moving away from the pyramid scheme altogether. Here’s something I thought of:
Instead of a MyPyramid… It’s a MyPlate. Showing broadly, how your plate might look if you were eating a healthy meal. Is it perfect? Of course not. I’m not a graphic designer or a nutritionist. But I think it is simple enough to be memorable, yet it portrays important information about proportions and food ratios.
I think the idea that I would like to see is something simple, but something that is actually useful.
I don’t know though, hopping on one leg sure is fun and you would probably lose weight if you did it every day.
Then again, maybe I’m just bitter because the website called me fat.