A Brief History of USDA Food Guides
Many individuals remember the Pyramids – the Food Guide Pyramid and MyPyramid – USDA’s food guidance symbols before MyPlate, but not many people realize just how long USDA’s history of providing science-based dietary guidance to the American public actually is. Starting over a century ago, USDA has empowered Americans to make healthy food choices by providing a number of publications, food guidance symbols, and, more recently, a suite of interactive online tools. Explore the history of USDA’s food guidance on the timeline below.
1916 to 1930s: "Food for Young Children" and "How to Select Food"
Established guidance based on food groups and household measures
Focus was on “protective foods”
Foundation diet for nutrient adequacy
Included daily number of servings needed from each of seven food groups
Lacked specific serving sizes
Foundation diet approach—goals for nutrient adequacy
Specified amounts from four food groups
Did not include guidance on appropriate fats, sugars, and calorie intake
Developed after the 1977 Dietary Goals for the United States were released
Based on the Basic Four, but also included a fifth group to highlight the need to moderate intake of fats, sweets, and alcohol
Total diet approach - Included goals for both nutrient adequacy and moderation
Five food groups and amounts formed the basis for the Food Guide Pyramid
Daily amounts of food provided at three calorie levels
First illustrated for a Red Cross nutrition course as a food wheel
Total diet approach—goals for both nutrient adequacy and moderation
Developed using consumer research, to bring awareness to the new food patterns
Illustration focused on concepts of variety, moderation, and proportion
Included visualization of added fats and sugars throughout five food groups and in the tip
Included range for daily amounts of food across three calorie levels
Introduced along with updating of Food Guide Pyramid food patterns for the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including daily amounts of food at 12 calorie levels
Continued “pyramid” concept, based on consumer research, but simplified illustration. Detailed information provided on website “MyPyramid.gov”
Added a band for oils and the concept of physical activity
Illustration could be used to describe concepts of variety, moderation, and proportion
Introduced along with updating of USDA food patterns for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Different shape to help grab consumers’ attention with a new visual cue
Icon that serves as a reminder for healthy eating, not intended to provide specific messages
Visual is linked to food and is a familiar mealtime symbol in consumers’ minds, as identified through testing
“My” continues the personalization approach from MyPyramid
For more information:
Welsh S, Davis C, Shaw A. A brief history of food guides in the United States. Nutrition Today November/December 1992:6-11.
Welsh S, Davis C, Shaw A. Development of the Food Guide Pyramid. Nutrition Today November/December 1992:12-23.
Haven J, Burns A, Britten P, Davis C. Developing the Consumer Interface for the MyPyramid Food Guidance System. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 2006, 38: S124–S135.