September 28, 2005

USDA food pyramid for kids aims to curb obesity

By Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Wednesday
unveiled new guidelines to encourage children to eat healthier
foods, but critics charged they do not go far enough to
eliminate the growing problem of obesity.

The new version of the government's iconic Food Guide
Pyramid, the first one for kids since 1999, promotes better
diets including less fatty foods and more physical activity.
About two-thirds of American adults and almost 16 percent of
children are overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.

The recommendations, which come five months after the U.S.
Agriculture Department revamped its well-known Food Guide
Pyramid for adults, are aimed at kids aged 6 to 11.

Some consumer groups criticized the USDA's "My Pyramid for
Kids" program, saying federal funds would be better spent on a
mass media campaign that promotes eating fruits and vegetables.

The government, which provides billions of dollars in
school lunch funding, also should press U.S. schools to
eliminate calorie-laden sodas, chips and candy, they say.

"My Pyramid for Kids doesn't dare to discourage children
from consuming so much soda, fast food, candy, and other junk
foods," said Michael Jacobson, executive director for the
Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The USDA said it designed the program to get kids moving
and eating more nutritious foods.

"This is a fun approach to addressing the very serious
problem of childhood obesity," Agriculture Secretary Mike
Johanns said in introducing the new program.

Like the adult pyramid, the children's pyramid depicts each
of the six major food groups. But it uses dozens of familiar
images such as apples for fruits and bread for grains to push
children toward healthy foods rather than burgers and fries.

Children are encouraged to get more physical activity
during birthday parties and other common events, to meet the
government's recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day. Kids
also can set up home gyms, substituting items such as soup cans
and stairs for weights and stair machines, USDA said.

To attract and entertain children, the USDA Web site added
an interactive computer spaceship game. Players who balance
food and exercise properly see an electronic spaceship take
off. Too many foods high in fat and sugar will cause the ship
to sputter on the launch pad and release black smoke.

U.S. food makers said they welcomed the child-friendly

"Beginning nutrition education in early childhood is an
important part of helping to ensure that children will achieve
healthful lifestyles," said Robert Earl, director of nutrition
policy at the Food Products Association. "MyPyramid for Kids
can help motivate children to put sound dietary messages into
daily practice," he said.

The food industry sent its own kids' pyramid guide this
week to nearly 60,000 teachers in grades 4 to 6. The Grocery
Manufacturers Association said the materials were based on the
USDA's program.

"Ours simply complements what USDA has done," said
Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the grocery group. "I think
what USDA is doing is great, but the private sector needs to
step up and help USDA spread its message."

In April, the USDA redesigned its familiar generic Food
Guide Pyramid and directed consumers to a Web site to choose
among 12 pyramids that calculate daily diet needs based on age,
activity and gender. Among other things, the guidelines
recommend more whole-grain foods and more exercise.

Some nutrition experts criticized the new adult program as
too general. They also complained that it failed to hold the
industry more accountable for high-fat, high-calorie products
and large portions. It also required use of a computer, which
many poor Americans lack.

The old food pyramid, developed in 1992, was readily
recognized by most Americans from breakfast cereal boxes,
lunchroom posters and nutrition articles.