Politics Vs.

Science: Opposing The Food Pyramid

Introduction
• In April, 1991 the government began to adopt the new food pyramid rather than a square-like shape and opted for less meat and dairy products. • Immediately, meat and dairy industries back-lashed and claimed their product was being “stigmatized”. This, of course, caused the USDA to alter the pyramid to be more pleasing to the corporations. • This indicated to two major problems: The opposing jobs of the USDA to promote agricultural business as well as advise the public about health issues, and the undeserved influence of lobbyists who gain to profit from these policies.

Building the Pyramid

• • • • • • •

In 1977 Congress was pressured to produce a healthy eating guide to reduce the cost of health care. USDA and Department of Health, Education and Welfare (DHEW) were struggling for power to advise the public. MN Senator accused DHEW of “avoiding prevention like the plague” and the USDA was granted more power and worked hand-in-hand with DHEW. Power struggled continued. USDA’s Human Nutrition Information Service (HNIS) finally started scientific research on a food guide. They found that the pyramid shape was easiest for the average person to understand. Many, many scientific studies were conducted to validate the pyramid. The original publication date was set to be in late April 1991. The publication ran into many complications and became delayed several times.

Bad Luck Streak

The 1st problem was rather small but dealt with the color adjustment during printing. Nutritional columnists and reporters claimed that the new pyramid was irresponsible and even dangerous. These stories appeared in major newspapers all over the country. The Cattlemen’s meeting just happened to be in Washington D.C. the weekend the story was released. Meeting agenda included visit with Secretary of Agriculture Madigan. The pyramid was eventually delayed and withdrawn.

Defending the Pyramid
• Organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Society for Nutritional Educations and many others protested the withdrawal. • Press wrote many stories about eh pyramid’s demise and more importantly, the favoritism of the government for big corporations. • Many pushed to move nutritional development and education to another department other than the USDA.

Renegotiating the Research
• After meat and dairy influence, Secretary Madigan insisted the USDA conduct the “missing” research. This would cost another $400,000 through a contract with Bell Associates. • USDA conducted countless experiments to find out if the food pyramid was the best shape to be used as opposed to others (bowl, pie charts, shopping carts, dinosaurs). • Was narrowed down to bowl and pyramid would be the most effective for education. Studies were conducted on children, minorities and uneducated adults. • Bowl and pyramid were pretty much the same in conveying a need for variety in food intake. • But, the pyramid did slightly better in promoting the proportionality that was needed.

Releasing the “New” Pyramid
• A year and one day (plus $855,000) after the announcement of the withdrawal, the “new pyramid was released with the changes. • Madigan claimed the extra research was to silence the concerns of certain groups and professionals and make certain the pyramid was the right choice. • The 33 changes were very trivial except for a couple major ones. The term “Eating Right” had been changed to “Food Guide” due to complaints from Kraft and it’s competitors. • The recommended amount of meat was actually increased from 4 to 6 ounces of meat a day to 5 to 7 ounces.

• There is no way to know for sure how the agencies came to choose the pyramid design. • There is speculation on where some funding may have come from and who had an opinion. • Despite this, agencies stood by and said that the pyramid truly was the superior choice • But… In August 1992, the USDA released another pyramid but this time with their name removed from it. They claim the help of DHEW, which is not known as the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

Conclusion
• After all the controversy the research done for the food pyramid might have been too successful. It proved again and again that certain foods should be consumed less than others no matter what the meat and dairy industries have to say about it. • The food pyramid would have probably been released with little hassle and not much interest had the National Cattlemen’s Association meeting not been in Washington D.C. that weekend. • Success came from those who worked behind the scenes to strengthen research and bring the truth to the press. Reporters used this to criticize the USDA and the role of lobbyists in influencing federal policy. • In this case, science conquered politics and the food pyramid is widely used all over the country. • Now, is it effective?

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