USDA's new food pyramid presents education opportunities, challenges

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Agriculture has released its revised food pyramid, but must now teach the public how to use it.

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Agriculture has released its revised food pyramid, but must now teach the public how to use it.

Porter Novelli, which created the original pyramid in 1992, again had a hand in the decision to vertically flip the contents of the graphic and add a physical fitness reminder.

Angela Harless, USDA communications coordinator, described the revision process as "collaborative," with input from several stakeholders.

But the USDA must now encourage more people to heed the dietary messages.

The food industry is already seizing the PR opportunities, something the USDA is counting on in order to supplement its own limited resources for promotion.

"We look to nutritionists, dieticians, teachers, and the food industry ... to deliver the MyPyramid content in ways that are specific to their clients' or customers' needs," Harless said. "By using this partnership approach, we can be effective without additional funding."

The recent controversies over the use of VNRs do not appear to have a chilling effect on media relations; the USDA did include b-roll in its press kit.

Web-based, interactive tools will also support the messages conveyed by the graphic.

"The symbol is meant to increase awareness, but the education is in the accompanying materials," said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns at the icon's unveiling.

The National Fisheries Institute is launching a heavy PR push to tout the benefits of seafood.

The Institute last month hired Stacey Felzenberg to manage PR, and has issued an RFP for agency help. "Clearly we have an ambitious goal to achieve and we can't do it alone," Felzenberg said.

Marybeth Thorsgaard, director of corporate PR for General Mills, noted that the pyramid is being placed on 100 million cereal boxes this summer.

PN has not escaped media scrutiny after an April 10 New York Times story questioned whether its work with food clients creates a conflict of interest. In an interview after the story ran, Ewing noted that the agency is not doing any outreach around the issue.

Harless emphasized that PN did not develop the nutritional guidelines, but is only helping to communicate them. She added that PN signed a confidentiality agreement that prohibits them from discussing its work with other entities.

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