The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Agency. The center develops nutrition research, education, and promotion programs for the American public. It’s most well-known product is the MyPyramid food guide that was published in 2005 and replaced the Food Pyramid first published in 1992. Staff members include nutritionists, dietitians, and nutrition educators who work with policymakers, academic and health professionals, and the public to improve the diet and health of Americans. The Executive Director of the CNPP is Dr. Rajen Anand.
In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt called together the first National Nutrition Conference for Defense where doctors, nutritionists, agricultural scientists, social service workers, food manufacturers, and distributers gathered to discuss ways to raise the level of public health in the United States. The conference was a result of shocking statistics: that 400,000 of 1 million men examined under the Selective Service Act were unfit for general military service, and of those, approximately one-third were unfit due to disabilities directly or indirectly connected with nutrition.
The conference resulted in the first set of Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) by the Food and Nutrition board of the National Academy of Sciences. The RDAs listed specific recommended intakes for calories and nine essential nutrients: protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A and D, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). The conference also addressed the need for public nutrition education. Two years later, the USDA released the Basic Seven food guide, in a leaflet titled National Wartime Nutrition Guide aimed at helping people get by on limited supplies of certain foods during the war. In 1946, it was renamed the National Food Guide, and included suggested food group servings.
In 1956 the USDA released a new food guide that also specified a foundation diet, known as the Basic Four. This guide recommended a minimum number of foods from each of the four food groups: milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, and grain products. This new guide, with its focus on getting enough nutrients, was widely used for the next two decades.
In 1977, the Organic Act of 1862, which created the Department of Agriculture, was amended to include “human nutrition” as a coverage area. That same year, passage of The National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act identified the USDA as the lead agency for food and agricultural sciences, including human nutrition. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) also mandated the use of nutrition information on virtually all packaged and processed foods. The act also required the Secretaries of the USDA and Health and Human Services to jointly publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. When the act was finally implemented in mid-1994, an additional tool, the Nutrition Facts Label was created, allowing consumers to select a healthy diet within the framework of the Food Guide Pyramid.
In 1992, the USDA released its first Food Guide Pyramid that used a pyramid separated by zones to show suggested percentages for the daily intake of various food groups. That pyramid was replaced in 2005, when CNPP released the MyPyramid Food Guidance System that translated nutritional recommendations into the kinds and amounts of food to eat each day. The new pyramid tilts the food groupings in a vertical direction, instead of its older horizontal framework, showing that there are healthy and unhealthy food choices in each grouping. In 2011, the latest Dietary Guidelines were released that recommended Americans focus on balancing their intake of calories with physical activity and consume more vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, and seafood. The recommendations also advise that Americans to watch their sodium intake.
Public Health and “National Defense” (by Grace Carlson, Fourth International, Oct. 1941)
The CNPP’s stated purpose is to provide dietary information for the benefit of the U.S. population. Tools include dietary guidelines and the food pyramid. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 gives advice on food and physical activity choices for health. The 2005 MyPyramid Food Guidance System allows for a more personalized eating plan based upon age, sex, and daily amount of physical activity. There are also separate pyramids for children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and vegetarians. In addition to its public health benefit, the pyramid is important because tens of billions of dollars of federal food policy are required to be compliant with the pyramid. For example, food programs for pregnant mothers, children, or low-income families will be structured around the pyramid guidelines.
In June 2011, MyPyramid was replaced with MyPlate, which is also based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new icon is split into four sections—green for vegetables, red for fruits, orange for grains, and purple for protein, plus a separate blue section for dairy on the side. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the plate was an improvement over the pyramid, which he described as “simply too complex.”
CNPP publishes USDA Food Plans: Cost of Food which offers four food plans based on income level. Each plan includes a nutritious diet, regardless of income. The lowest level, the Thrifty Food Plan, is the basis for food stamp allotments. CNPP also publishes the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which measures diet quality in conformance to federal dietary guidance. The primary use of the HEI is to monitor the diet quality of the U.S. population and the low-income subpopulation using data collected via 24-hour recalls of dietary intake in national surveys. The original HEI was created by CNPP in 1995, but was revised in 2006 by a CNPP-led federal working group, that included members from the National Cancer Institute and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, to reflect the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
In addition to publishing guidelines, the CNPP also conducts applied research and analysis in nutrition and consumer economics, including providing a historical data series detailing the monthly Nutrient Content of the U.S. Food Supply that had data going back to 1909. The agency also runs the USDA’s Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL), which conducts systematic reviews on food and nutrition-related science to inform federal nutrition policy, and programs.
CNPP has three divisions:
From the Web Site of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Strategic Plan (pdf)
The FY 2013 proposed budget asks for an increase of $1.4998 million from the previous year. This increase benefits the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including, but not limited to, required updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to adjust SNAP benefits annually, and the creation of nutrition education and promotion materials targeted toward SNAP participants. The increase reflects a restoration to the 2011 appropriated level.
Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate Versus CNPP’s Food Guide Pyramid and MyPlate
It is challenging to boil down a tremendous amount of complex science to a simple graphic. For nearly two decades, U.S. nutritional guidelines were represented in a Food Guide Pyramid. That Pyramid, though, argued Walter Willett, an epidemiology and nutrition professor at Harvard University Medical School, put too much emphasis on red meat and lumped too many types of carbohydrates together. The Pyramid gave too little emphasis to nuts, beans, and healthy oils, which have positive health effects. It was too broad in lumping all kinds of protein sources together when they all offer different minerals and other essentials. Red meat and beans are really very different, yet they were in the same category on the Pyramid. The same discrepancy was found at the bottom of the Pyramid, where all grains were lumped together. According to Willett, white rice, white bread, and white pasta belonged at the top of the Pyramid with sweets, to be used sparingly. Willett suggested that diet and exercise should be the base of the Pyramid. He also strongly disagreed with all types of oils and fats being placed together at the top of the Pyramid. Some fats, such as vegetable oils are good and others such as trans fats are not.
In June 2011, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) changed the Food Guide Pyramid, unveiling MyPlate as a way to educate Americans on how to eat healthy. Some nutritionists called MyPlate simplistic, and the CNPP’s attempt to redefine nutritional guidelines again came into question by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, who said agricultural lobbyists overly influenced the agency. As an alternative to MyPlate, Harvard published the Healthy Eating Plate, which included guidelines for protein and recommendations for physical activity. It also discouraged the reliance on potatoes and French fries as a source of vegetables, and promoted drinking water over milk.
Use a food pyramid that’s actually based on the latest and best science (Harvard University School of Public Health)
Harvard vs. USDA–Dishing Out Controversy Over Dietary Guidelines (by Rachel Perez, The Friedman Sprout)
Harvard Researchers Unveil New Healthy Eating Plate (by Kim Carollo, ABC News)
Industry Manipulation of Nutrition Guidelines
According to PBS.com, in 1991 the U.S. Department of Agriculture withdrew its Eating Right Pyramid food guide in response to pressure from meat and dairy producers. This was only one of a long series of industry attempts to influence federal dietary recommendations. Such attempts began when diet-related health problems in the United States shifted in prevalence from nutrient deficiencies to chronic diseases, and dietary advice shifted from “eat more” to “eat less.” The Pyramid controversy focuses attention on the conflict between federal protection of the rights of food lobbyists to act in their own self-interest, and federal responsibility to promote the nutritional health of the public. For example, from 1977 until recently, under pressure from meat producers, federal dietary advice evolved from “decrease consumption of meat” to “have two or three (daily) servings.” Therefore, the withdrawal in 1991 also highlights the inherent conflict of interest in the Department of Agriculture’s dual mandates to promote U.S. agricultural products and to advise the public about healthy food choices. The huge push for high consumption of dairy products is really not based on good science, yet the public has been led to believe that it is essential to have three glasses of milk a day. The best drugs can reduce heart attacks by about 20 or 30%, while a healthy diet can reduce risk by 80%, yet we put almost all of our resources into promoting drugs rather than healthy lifestyle and nutrition.
Diet Wars (PBS Frontline)
Food lobbies, the food pyramid, and U.S. nutrition policy (National Center for Biotechnology Center)
Ethnic and Specialized Diets
Every person’s diet varies depending on their cultural and taste preferences. There are other pyramids not associated with the USDA such as the Asian, Latin American, and Mediterranean diet pyramids, the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid, and the Vegetarian Diet Pyramid. These pyramids reflect the same general principles of healthy eating but allow for different food choices. New dietary guidance materials will need to address the use of these foods and how they fit into the diet.
Food pyramid: An option for better eating (Mayo Clinic)
Often science is presented to the public in a way that is conclusive, even though the science behind it is often preliminary and inconclusive. Research shows that consumers feel frustrated when they hear different nutrition messages from different sources. In a USDA survey of meal preparers, more than 40% strongly agreed with the statement: “There are so many recommendations about healthy ways to eat; it’s hard to know what to believe.” (USDA, 1996)
Robert C. Post, 2009 (Acting)
Brian Wansink, 2008-2009
Dr. Brian Wansink was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and received his bachelor’s degree from Wayne State College in 1982, his master’s at Drake University in 1984, and his doctorate from Stanford University in 1990. He has spent 25 years in the fields of nutritional science, food psychology, consumer behavior, food marketing, and grocery shopping behavior. His award-winning academic research on food has been published in leading marketing, medical, and nutrition journals nationally and internationally, and contributed to the development and introduction of “100 calorie” packaging. He is the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods, Biotechnology, and Obesity.
Wansink has had academic appointments at Dartmouth College, Vrije Universiteit (The Netherlands), the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, INSEAD at Fountainebleu (France), U.S. Army Research Labs, and Cornell University. In 2008, he took an academic leave of absence from his professorship at Cornell University to serve as the Executive Director of CNPP. After serving as Executive Director, he returned to Cornell University as a marketing professor, where he holds the John S. Dyson Endowed Chair and serves as Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab in the Department of Applied Economics and Management.
Eric Hentges, 2003-2007
Rajen Anand, 1997-2001
Dr. Rajen Anand graduated from the University of California, Davis, with a doctorate in human physiology, nutrition and biochemistry and a second doctorate in veterinary medicine. He has published over 40 scientific articles in national and international journals and made presentations at numerous professional meetings worldwide. He served as a professor physiology for 30 years—including 6 years as department chair at California State University, Long Beach. In 1995, Anand served as Deputy Director of CNPP and was promoted to Executive Director in 1997. After leaving this post in 2001, Anand served as Chair of the National Federation of Indian American Associations. In 2009, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack named him Executive Director of CNPP for a second time.
Eileen Kennedy, 1994-1997
A college professor, Indian-American community activist and Democratic Party player, Rajen Anand was chosen by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to return to his leadership role at the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion in the U.S. Department of Agriculture on July 8, 2009. Anand previously served as the center’s executive director during the Clinton administration.