Causes of Obesity Include the USDA Food Group Pyramid

Causes of obesity are many, but its rates have doubled from the time the USDA Food Group Pyramid was introduced in 1992.

What is the Food Group Pyramid?

In 1992, dietary education was formed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the Food Group Pyramid. It is a graphical depiction that summed up dietary advice in one simple picture. Most licensed doctors, dieticians, and other professionals considered this advice to be the gold standard which made it the most widely recognized nutrition guideline in the world.

Though the Food Group Pyramid intended to help Americans make wiser dietary choices, its recommendations did more damage than good. Chronic diseases and obesity have boomed over the last four decades. From the time the nutrition guideline was introduced in 1992 to the beginning of the new decade in 2010, obesity rates nearly doubled in 36 states and more than doubled in 12 other states.

What is a Food Group?

A food group is a collection of foods sharing similar nutritional properties. For example, one group may be vegetables which include plants or plant parts such as roots, leaves, stems, and flowers. Another group comprise of fruits that include seed-bearing structures that develop from the ovary of a flowering plant. The other four basic food groups include grains, proteins, dairy, and fats.

The USDA Food Group Pyramid included six basic food groups with daily recommendations of servings.

  1. Grains (breads, cereals, rice, and pastas) – 6 to 11 servings
  2. Vegetables – 3 to servings
  3. Fruits – 2 to 4 servings
  4. Proteins (meats, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts) – 2 to 3 servings
  5. Dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese) – 2 to 3 servings
  6. Fats, oil, and sweets – use sparingly

Why is the Food Group Pyramid Flawed?

The 1992 Food Group Pyramid Flaws

A nutrition guideline can be a great educational tool, but unfortunately the USDA dietary guideline of 1992 was greatly flawed. Its widespread adoption has contributed to an overweight and obese America.

Too many grains were recommended. Breads, cereals, rice, and pastas were touted as the healthiest foods. While certain whole grains are beneficial for health, refined grains have proven to have negative effects on body weight.

Dietary fats were vilified. Fats were considered evil no matter what type. They were also categorized with sweets such as candy, cookies, cake, and ice cream.

Studies have proven trans fatty acids (man-made fats) to be a risk for chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are also linked to insulin sensitivity and induce abdominal obesity even in the absence of caloric excess.

On the other hand natural fats, especially Omega-3 fatty acids, help improve health, especially cardiovascular health. Omega-3 also reduces appetite and food intake and ultimately helps prevent or reduce obesity.

Serving sizes were not defined. Since no serving sizes were given, individuals had to interpret this themselves. This placed individuals at risk for eating too much or too little.

Future Food Group Pyramid Flaws

Through the next 13 years, scientific research would strongly support a diet with more dietary fats and limited refined carbohydrates. Because of this, the USDA revised their nutrition guidelines and renamed it My Pyramid.

Compared to the original rule, My Pyramid contained half the grains. Dietary fats became a healthy food group, and fruit juices were also de-emphasized. Actual volume and weight for food servings were included (the 1992 model didn’t cover this). Proteins were also reduced. These were great improvements to the 1992 pyramid, though imperfections remained.

A few years later, the USDA revised their guidelines yet again. The triangular food group pyramid was replaced with the My Plate model in 2011. It is a diagram of a dinner plate split into four uneven quadrants. Half the plate recommends vegetables and fruits, while the other half suggests grains and proteins (with a larger emphasis on grains). A cup to the upper right-hand side of the plate represents the need for milk. Unfortunately, this model also fails in its recommendations.

The My Plate model provides a simpler diagram for an individual to use, though it still falls somewhat short of the mark. It fails to educate individuals on nutrient dense whole foods versus processed and refined. With a population at risk for intolerances and allergies to milk, the model doesn’t provide an alternative for dairy either. Nor does it provide nutrition information relating to activity level or goals for altering body composition (weight loss or weight gain).


The USDA made great strides to improving nutrition guidelines since its inception in 1992. However, much damage has already been done to American society. Consumers had become accustomed to the original dietary principles, and these precepts have unfortunately been passed on to newer generations. It’s now up to you to bypass the USDA’s dietary recommendations to stay healthy and fit.