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Consumers already baffled by eating guidelines: study

Amid criticism that the federal government's revised food pyramid will throw consumers into a state of confusion, a new study has found that many Americans are already there. Fifty-three percent of adults regard the eating guidelines underlying the new food pyramid as not even somewhat easy to understand, according to a report issued yesterday by NPD Group, a researcher based here. Thirty-five percent will not try to follow the guidelines.

The survey data was released almost simultaneously with the unveiling of the new food pyramid, a graphic depiction of the dietary recommendations, which were released several months ago by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

The guidelines advised consumers to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and to reconsider the consumption of soda and other sugared beverages.

The pyramid was crafted to give consumers a handy visual guide to putting those suggestions into practice. But, as extensive supportive materials explain, a single eating strategy isn't applicable to persons of varying ages, sizes, or activity levels. Instead, consumers are advised to pick one of 12 permutations, a radical departure from the one-size-fits-all pyramid that the new paradigm replaces.

"The dietary guidelines unveiled in January were the strongest ever, but the new pyramid doesn't clearly communicate that advice to the public," groused the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a public advocacy group that usually applauds government efforts to regulate health. "By replacing one pyramid with 12, the government has made this advice more complicated than it needs to be. There are simple key principles about healthy eating that truly do work for all Americans, and those could have been represented on one symbol."

The National Restaurant Association said it welcomed the new pyramid and its personalized approach.

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