By Jenna Banning
If you are what you eat, our world is certainly unhealthy. People across the globe are not getting the nutrients that they need, resulting in high levels of both hunger and obesity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 925 million people were undernourished in 2010. At the same time, the World Health Organization estimates that over 1 billion people are overweight, and at least 300 million obese. (Such estimates are based on Body Mass Index measurements, which compare one’s height and weight. Individuals with BMI’s over 25 are considered overweight, and over 30 are obese).
In order to tackle this issue, food pyramids and other guides have been used by organizations and governments to suggest better nutrition for the needs of their populations for many years. Today, Nourishing the Planet shares visual food guides from five countries (and one organization) being used across the world.
1. Organizations such as the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) have been working to build awareness of the environmental impact of personal food consumption. By creating the Double Pyramid of Food and the Environment, BCFN hopes to redefine eating habits that are healthy for both individuals and the environment.
2. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) first began producing nutrition guidelines in 1894. The first visual model featuring the color-coded categories was created in 1916. This model has since seen a number of reincarnations, including “A Guide to Good Eating” in the 1940s, “The Food Wheel” in 1984, and the first “Food Guide Pyramid” in 1992.
The USDA released new guidelines in 2010 in response to the country’s rising chronic-disease and obesity levels, encouraging Americans “to become more conscious of what, when, why and how much they eat”. The USDA then publicized these guidelines with a new food guide known as MyPlate.
3. In contrast to the American food pyramid encouraging healthy weight loss, some countries promote healthy weight gain for their audience. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the highest prevalence of hunger in the world – the FAO estimates that about one in every three people in the region are hungry.
In Namibia, a large part of the population does not consume enough calories or nutrients, leading to various forms of malnutrition. According to the 1992 National Demographic and Health Survey, 28 percent of children had stunted growth from malnourishment. About one third of the population between 6 and 21 were iodine deficient in 1990, and only 43 percent of the population had access to safe water supply.
In 2000, the Namibian government produced its first Food and Nutrition Guidelines to help educate their citizens on how to address these issues. The report featured a colorful food poster encouraging Namibians to eat a variety of clean foods from a number of sources in order to gain the nutrients and calories that they were lacking.
4. According to the European Food Information Council, the most pressing health concerns in the region are diet- and lifestyle-related conditions stemming from excessive caloric and insufficient nutrient intake. In response, European food guides include advice on limiting foods containing fats, sugars, and salt; increasing fruits, vegetables, and fluids; and controlling body weight through physical activity.
Many European food guides are formatted in the familiar pyramid design, emphasizing greater consumption of water and grains (at the base) and less of fats and sugars (at the top). Some governments have chosen different formats however in order to illustrate their nutrition recommendations. In Hungary, the central importance of food is illustrated in a house form; the French emphasize physical activity through their steps format, and Estonians appeal to their younger citizens through cartoon characters on their food guide. The Spanish pie chart guide provides one example of another popular nutrition guide form. Here, each category is represented in a segment proportional to the government’s recommended servings, with the center of the wheel highlighting the importance of water and exercise.
The German food guide is distinct in its complex three-dimensional appearance. Not only illustrating the proportions that certain foods should be eaten relative to others, the four sides of the pyramid also provide advice on the nutritional value and role of each food. The German food pyramid also advises Germans to consume less meat by placing it at the same level as sugars.
5. In designing food guides, governments not only consider the nutritional needs of their country, but also local cultures. In fertile Argentina, people are encouraged to consume “fruits and vegetables of every type and color;” in Ecuador, each province of the country has a form of the national guidelines adapted to local food customs; and Thais are advised to eat an “adequate amount of rice.” In Greece, the food pyramid reflects the Mediterranean cuisine by including olive oil and herbs such as basil and oregano in their categories and recommendations.
Through efforts such as these, governments and organizations across the globe are striving to educate their populations about healthy eating habits. As the world population continues to grow and food production and distribution systems develop, ensuring proper nutrition is crucial.
Jenna Banning is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.
To read more about how governments and other organizations are working to combat global malnourishment, see: Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Does a Double Take on the Food Pyramid, UN Pledges Support of African Food Security, and Innovation of the Week: Fighting Global Malnutrition Locally.
- Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Does a Double Take on the Food Pyramid
- Marula: Food, Function, and Sustainable Development
- The Future of Our Food System: Our Changing Climate and Food Availability
- Home Grown and Healthy Food
- Making Smart Food Choices
- Cultivating food security in Africa
- World Health Organization launches new tool to help combat malnutrition
- The Benefits of a More Diverse Food System