U.S. revamping food pyramid

WASHINGTON -- The federal government updates its dietary guidelines for Americans every five years. This year, with most Americans overweight or obese and at risk of high blood pressure, policymakers are working to reinvent the familiar food pyramid and develop advice that is simple and blunt enough to help turn the tide.

Although most people do not read them, the guidelines have a broad impact on Americans' lives. They dictate what is served in school breakfasts and lunches, in education materials in the food stamp program and in the development of nutrition labels.

What the guidelines will say when they are unveiled in December is still under wraps. But the interagency committee is searching for new ways to communicate lessons about healthful eating and is working to make the food pyramid "more meaningful and engaging," said Robert Post, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion.

The effort has drawn public comments from the meat lobby, opposing strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats; from the milk lobby, which has concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars that could affect chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk; and from members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, concerned that added-sugar restrictions could affect the cranberry industry.

This year, 88 percent of Americans were unable to accurately estimate the number of calories they should consume, up from 85 percent in 2009.