Friday, June 03, 2011

USDA Warns Against Misusing MyPlate Icon

The "MyPlate Style Guide" has detailed restrictions on use of the Obama Administration symbol for healthy eating... 
First Lady Michelle Obama on Thursday unveiled MyPlate, USDA's new food group icon, which continues the nutrition messaging efforts of her Let's Move! campaign. The brightly colored dinner plate will be used across the federal government and by private industry, and it's even being used in the White House, Mrs. Obama said. But while designed to be simple, MyPlate comes with a detailed ten-page instruction booklet to ensure that no-one misuses it or changes it in any way--and that includes the typeface used on the icon. (Top: A page from the booklet, with examples of misuse)

"Millions of Americans" will begin using MyPlate "immediately" to inform their food choices, Mrs. Obama said on Thursday. The MyPlate Style Guide and Conditions of Use For the Icon booklet is aimed at everyone who has anything to do with those food choices--from food corporations and farmers and chefs to academic institutions to commercial media outlets and non-profit entities--even the makers of coloring books. The guidelines prohibit changing the MyPlate icon visually by re-arranging the food group elements on the plate, changing the names of the food groups, or changing their colors. (Above: Mrs. Obama unveiling the icon)

"Do not alter the elements of the icon, including the type treatment of while maintaining "MyPlate" in bold. Also do not change their relationships to each other, or replace them with other elements..." warns USDA.

MyPlate icon users must also avoid implying that a particular food that has the MyPlate symbol attached to it actually has USDA endorsement, the agency warns.

"Any such use [at point of sale] cannot suggest or imply USDA endorsement of the product or service. Further, such use cannot be misleading in its application on labels/labeling on packaging or at retail sale," USDA notes in the booklet.

The Guide also has advice for sizing the icon and color palettes, and for when to use the symbol in editorial situations. Above: An image from the Style Guide that contains an example on how to highlight a particular food group, noting that the names of the food groups cannot be altered.

First Lady learns a lesson from other Let's Move! communication efforts...
The MyPlate restrictions make sense for a "simple" symbol that reportedly cost millions of dollars--and plenty of people--to create, and which is intended to fundamentally alter consumer behavior.

Especially because the food industry is likely to mis-use MyPlate, according to Dr. Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University.

"No matter what USDA does, the food industry will figure out a way to use it [MyPlate] to sell more food," Nestle told Obama Foodorama. "A bottom-line focus always trumps public health, alas."

The food industry did just that earlier this year, after Mrs. Obama asked major companies to join Let's Move! and voluntarily create front-of-package labels that would include easy to understand nutrition information. A group of food companies came up with the Nutrition Keys labeling scheme, which wasn't quite what the White House--or the FDA-- had in mind for consumer friendly labels. The new graphic, which can be found on thousands of products, has four segments, with one each for calories, sodium, and fat. That's what the White House wanted.

But there's also more spots, little add-on boxes that can be used to highlight a product's healthy ingredients, and experts have pointed out that this could lead to things like ice cream being promoted as "healthy," because it contains calcium. The First Lady declined to appear at the press conference to launch the Nutrition Keys, and in February she said she's adopting a "wait and see" attitude before endorsing the scheme.

*Pages from MyPlate Style Guide; photo by Getty/pool