Aside from the health science merits of the Basic Four Food Groups, it largely failed as a didactic device. It became the poster child for irrelevant health promotion messages, and was usually discarded if not totally forgotten after middle school health class. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the establishment of the Basic Four concept, the obesity epidemic we see now had not started, and even the diet-related risk factors linked to heart disease were yet understood.
In the early 19902, the USDA replaced the Basic Four with the Food Pyramid. It was a step forward in including broader health advice, such as "Use fats, oils and sweets sparingly," but it still was putting too much emphasis on dairy products and meat sources of protein. It was not hard to see the influence of food and farming lobbyists at work, but the Food Pyramid was small, incremental progress toward addressing
The Food Pyramid was recently replaced by a new plan called "MyPlate." This has been given a lot of energy by Michelle Obama, who has made a focus of her time as First Lady to try to promote better eating and more exercise, as a way to decrease the child and adult obesity epidemic.
My plate represents another increment of progress, with the guideline that half of one's diet should be fruits and vegetables. No longer is a preference shown for meat protein. Not shown in the diagram, but in the narrative accompanying the illustration is the encouragement to preferentially select whole grain foods rather than refined. On the other hand, dairy is still featured, with the stipulation that people should seek low fat and fat free options. Unfortunately, there are millions of children and adults who are lactose intolerant, so this plan seems to leave them out in this regard. There is no question that MyPlate could be better in some ways, but it is light years ahead of the Basic Four.
Very recently, the Harvard School of Public Health has release its own rewrite of all these food plans. The subtext is one of impatience with the political climate that has been imposed on evidence-based health practice. This plan is called Healthy Eating Plate. This dietary guideline is absolutely on target with the best evidence of healthy nutrition, suitable for all. However, the implied criticism of MyPlate is a little unfair, since Harvard does not have to respond to all American stakeholders, just the scholars and
scientists. The other problem with Healthy Eating Plate is its complexity. While MyPlate is lacking in a few areas with respect to health guidance, it is a plan that is quite easy to explain to the lay public. Healthy Eating Plate is more correct, more complete, but also presents a great challenge for disseminating to average Americans.
If you are reading this you probably have more than a passing interest in health promotion. What do you think are the challenges of driving the widespread adoption of guidelines as detailed as Healthy Eating Plate?