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Agriculture Department Puts Hold On 'Eating Right' Food Pyramid

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Washington--In a reversal of policy, the Department of Agriculture has decided to put on hold a project to replace its traditional wheel-shaped chart of the four food groups with a pyramid-shaped design.

Last month, department officials said they were putting the finishing touches on the "Eating Right Pyramid," which they hoped would encourage healthier eating habits.

But late last week, Sue Ann Ritchko, the administrator of the department's Human Nutrition and Information Service, said the pyramid had been shelved, pending further research.

One food-industry official, however, suggested that pressure from industry groups led to the decision.

At the base of the pyramid would have been grains and cereals. At the next, smaller level, would have been fruits and vegetables. Above that would have been a still-smaller level devoted to meat and dairy products, and at the top, the smallest level would have consisted of fats, oils, and sugar.

The pyramid would have graphically conveyed the information that a healthy diet should emphasize grains and cereals, as well as fruits and vegetables, and should include few high-fat foods.

In contrast, the wheel-shaped graphic that has commonly been used in many nutrition and health classes gives equal space to the four food groups: milk and dairy products; meats, poultry, and fish; fruits and vegetables; and breads and grains.

Ms. Ritchko said the department needs to conduct "focus group" sessions with children to learn what kind of graphic would best teach them how to eat nutritiously. The pyramid will be tested in addition to other designs, she said. Previous focus-group sessions that had examined the pyramid had been conducted only with adults, she said.

No date has been set for the new design's release, she added.

Jeannine Kenney, an economist and a lobbyist for the National Milk Producers Federation, said she believed the project was shelved after the dairy and meat industries told the usda that they wanted to discuss further the pyramid and how it could be "misinterpreted."

"The pyramid certainly makes it clear that dairy products and meat products are undesirable," Ms. Kenney said. "We are concerned as anyone about not misleading consumers about our products."--ef

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