This spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a new food pyramid designed to fit Americans like a glove. According to an April 19 USDA press release, MyPyramid, which replaces the Food Guide Pyramid introduced in 1992, is part of an overall food guidance system that emphasizes the need for a more individualized approach to improving diet and lifestyle., the new website devoted to the revised pyramid, is designed so that consumers can make simple choices to fit their individual needs.

“MyPyramid is about the ability of Americans to personalize their approach when choosing a healthier lifestyle that balances nutrition and exercise,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “Many Americans can dramatically improve their overall health by making modest improvements to their diets and by incorporating regular physical activity into their daily lives.”

The new MyPyramid symbol is meant to encourage consumers to make healthier personal choices and to be active a portion of every day. The symbol represents the recommended proportion of foods from each food group and, for the first time, includes a visual reminder of the importance of physical activity.

The MyPyramid website includes the following features:

  • MyPyramid Plan: provides an estimate of what and how much food to eat, based on a user’s age, gender and activity level
  • MyPyramid Tracker: offers an online diet and physical activity assessment tool
  • Inside the Pyramid: provides in- depth data for every food group
  • For Professionals: includes a guide that professionals can use to help consumers navigate through the site
  • Tips & Resources

The MyPyramid website offers 12 different plans for consumers, along with personalized exercise guidelines. Future enhancements to the site will include portion recommendations for favorite foods and a child-friendly version of MyPyramid.

So what do nutrition experts think about MyPyramid? According to Sally Kuzemchak, RD, LD, a nutrition counselor in Columbus, Ohio, “I like the idea of personalization, because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. I also like the fact that much of the advice [on the website] is based on the new 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and that the emphasis is on choosing whole grains and vegetables. I even like the fact that they show a figure walking up steps of the pyramid, emphasizing the importance of physical activity.”

But Kuzemchak does have a few reservations. For one thing, she is worried about special populations, like older adults and the poor, who may not have a home computer. “I’m concerned about all of the people who don’t have computer access,” she says. Currently, the USDA has only enough funding to make the interactive pyramid available via the Internet.

Then there is the matter of the shape of MyPyramid. “I find the overall pyramid design confusing, especially if the sections aren’t labeled [by food group],” says Kuzemchak. “If they are turning the food group sections on their sides, I am not sure why they are keeping the pyramid shape. Something like a pie chart or even a dinner plate with divided sections would seem to make more sense to me.”

Symbology aside, Kuzemchak is hopeful. “I think in general that MyPyramid will work best for really motivated people who spend time on the site using the features that allow them to analyze their diet and exercise routine.” I am encouraged that the site had so much traffic this week. But whether that will continue, I am not sure.”