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MyPlate May Face Uphill Battle

by Elizabeth Mendes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week launched the MyPlate icon -- its new diagram for communicating the federal government's nutritional guidelines to Americans.

First lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack unveiled the new food icon -- which will replace the long-standing food pyramid -- at a press conference. The USDA hopes the new design will "prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times." It emphasizes the government's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which include making half your plate fruits and vegetables.



The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index measures Americans' consumption of fruits and vegetables daily by asking them: In the last seven days, on how many days did you: Have five or more servings of fruits and vegetables?

In May, 55.9% of Americans said they ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables four or more days per week. This is about on par with what Gallup typically finds in any given month. The percentage of adults who report this level of fruit and vegetable consumption has ranged from 53.4% to 59.0% since Gallup and Healthways started tracking it in January 2008.

This means that, on average, more than 4 in 10 Americans aren't eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Getting adults to change these ingrained eating habits will not be an easy task.


Gallup and Healthways have, however, uncovered important insights into Americans' eating habits that can help policymakers target their outreach efforts around the new MyPlate campaign:

FACT: Americans tend to eat more fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer and fewer in the fall and winter.

IMPLICATION: Increasing access to and awareness of these foods in the colder months could help Americans eat fruits and vegetables more consistently all year round.

FACT: Americans who say it is easy for them to get affordable fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables.

IMPLICATION: While the new USDA food icon may make Americans more aware of what they should be eating, more efforts are needed to increase access to low-cost, healthy foods nationwide.

FACT: Young adults and black Americans are least likely to eat enough fruits and vegetables.

IMPLICATION: Outreach targeted specifically to these two groups is needed. Helping young adults make good food choices -- especially before they have children -- will be key to transforming the future health of the United States.

FACT: Americans who live in the middle of the country -- the Midwest and parts of the West -- are the least likely to eat fruits and vegetables frequently.

IMPLICATION: The USDA may want to use their MyPlate campaign dollars to target the states in the middle of America. Many of the states where fruit and vegetable consumption is the lowest also have some of the highest obese populations. Getting these Americans to adopt healthier lifestyles could go a long way toward decreasing obesity.

The Well-Being Index data reveal that ultimately, the success of the MyPlate initiative may come down to the campaign's post-launch targeted outreach efforts. But, regardless of how much Americans take to the new symbol, issues of access and affordability could continue to hinder their ability to eat healthy foods. Gallup and Healthways track Americans' eating habits daily and will continue to report on the nation's progress.

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