Michelle Obama and MyPlate.gov: Out with the Pyramid, in with the Plate

ABC News' Jon Garcia reports: First she re-introduced much of America to backyard gardens. Then she prodded our quickly plumping kids to get outside and run around. Now, first lady Michelle Obama is helping roll out another tool to fight America’s obesity epidemic: ChooseMyPlate.gov, the new food icon and website that Obama administration officials say is a lot easier to understand and follow than the old food pyramid from which we’ve learned for nearly two decades.

“As long as they’re eating proper portions, as long as half of their meal is fruits and vegetables alongside their lean proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy, then we’re good. It’s as simple as that,” the first lady said at the MyPlate.gov unveiling at the US Department of Agriculture, which developed the MyPlate icon.

“We are implementing this in our household. We’ve had a conversation about sitting down with Malia and Sasha and helping them think about how to choose their proportions, and this plate is a huge tool. So I find myself doing a quick checklist to make sure that I have a balanced meal.”

The plate is a new, multicolored symbol designed for people to see visually how much room on a plate each of the food groups -- fruits, vegetables, grains, protein & dairy -- should occupy. If people visualize the icon as they fill their plate, USDA officials hope people will be reminded to make better, more balanced choices. The website behind the icon will contain nutrition guidelines, which were updated last year, and links to dozens of information sources on diets and food.

The old food pyramid, developed in 1992, displayed nutrition information in terms of servings and sizes, with many more categories. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the pyramid isn’t inaccurate, it’s just too complex to be a useful tool. Michelle Obama agrees.

“Parents don’t have the time to measure out exactly three ounces of chicken or to look up how much rice or broccoli is in a serving,” she said. “That has confounded me as a parent for a very long time. I still don't know how much protein comes in X number of ounces. And we’re all bombarded with so many dietary messages that it’s hard to find time to sort through all this information. But we do have time to take a look at our kids’ plates.”

What’s NOT displayed on the plate? Dessert.

"We're not suggesting they should not ever have a cookie or a treat or dessert or whatever, that's not what this is about and it’s unfortunate people want to make it about that. What this is about is a nation that has an obesity issue,” Vilsack said. “We are not telling people what to eat, we are giving them a guide."

Last year former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin blasted the “nanny state run amok” when Pennsylvania officials proposed limiting the sweets served to kids in state schools. To make her point, Palin served 200 sugar cookies to kids at an elementary school in the state.

Michelle Obama also made sure to point out that the icon can only do so much.

“The new icon isn’t going to end our epidemic of childhood obesity on its own. This is an important start, but it’s not the only thing that we need to be doing,” she said. “It’s certainly not going to take the responsibility off of us as parents to make sure that we’re making the right choices for our families. That's still on us.”

-- Jon Garcia

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