Belgium, new food pyramid

Belgium, new food pyramid

The Flemish Belgium tackles in his own way the problem of obesity, overweight and NCD’s  related to unhealthy diets and junk food. Without introducing traffic light labeling (as do England, France and Scandinavian countries), nor promoting food reformulation (as does Spain). By proposing instead a new food pyramid, in the more generic context of public education to a healthy life.

Unhealthy diets and junk food, a healthcare trouble

Data from the Global Health Observatory (GHO) is showing an incidence above average, in the Flemish Belgian population, (1) both in overweight (59,5%) and obesity (22,1%). In the dramatic  overview offered by the WHO, whereas obesity and overweight now affect 39% of adults and 19% of minors (aged 5-19) globally, and the obese have tripled from 1975 to 2016.

The average dweller of Flanders – Dutch speaking area in northern Belgium – eats too much food located in the so-called red area of the food pyramid (food high in sugars, sodium and fat) and red meat’, refers Loes Neven, coordinator in nutrition at the Flemish Institute for a healthy life. ‘No consumption of fruit, vegetables or whole grain cereals (plant-based foodstuffs in general).Teenagers have the worst eating habits of all ages’.

The new food pyramid of Flemish Belgium is thus part of an educational project which has recently turned 50, and despite repeated updates – that now take under consideration different aspects of health, from diet to physical condition – was found to be up until now unsuccessful. The excessive consumption of HFSS food (High in Fat, Sugar and Sodium) is in fact the real problem to deal with, and few governments have so far had the guts to introduce effective measures.

The new Flemish food pyramid

The nutritional pyramid of Flanders is rotated upside down, with the base at the top and the peak at the bottom. A perhaps more effective chart form, since it highlights on the top those foods one should eat more frequently. Drink more water, eat plenty of vegetable products. Cereals in the middle, then dairy, eggs, fish and white meat. Red meat with moderation, at the bottom of the pyramid.

HFSS foods and beverages – as in high in fat, sugar and sodium – are located in the red zone, in a circle outside the pyramid, along with alcoholic beverages. With the warning ‘to be consumed as little as possible.’

Communication is simple, as green, yellow and red colors are used to express the recommended frequency of consumption of the various categories of foods. There’s also a grey area – hosting salted peanuts, fruit juices, milk chocolate, white bread and sweetened yogurt – that is however not visible.

Don’t loose hope (without loosing yourself in it)

It’s all so easy, that one is left to wonder how it can work. Perhaps by subjecting citizens of all ages to a forced viewing of the new pyramid (under the Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange school)? By exposing it in schools, medical facilities and sports centers? Through public service announcements? Regime screensavers? If they were at least words, one could also think of an hypnosis treatment in NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) for obese patients. But with pictures, that’s also quite hard.

A purely formal exercise, it rather seems. The healthcare administration will then be able to tell the central government and the WHO that the program for nutritional education has been updated, in design and approach. Since it focuses on the more or less favorable impact single foods have on the consumers health – so for example sugary drinks are placed in the red zone (where else?) – instead of classifying them on the basis of their nutritional intake (ex. source of simple sugars).

But public health, in Belgium as in the rest of Europe, is still in trouble. Consumers are more and more distracted – when they go grocery shopping to walking in the street, often hooked to their smartphone – and require both better food on a nutritional level, and drastic bans on junk food advertising.

Color coding can be useful on food and drink labels, rather than on pyramids, in order to show with the blink of an eye the characteristics of non-traditional products. Since what frequently may appear as ‘healthy’ – see many vegan ready meals – usually isn’t at all.

Dario Dongo


(1) The Global Health Observatory is a public database, managed by the WHO (World Health Organization) on situation in Italy is equally tragic, with overweight and obesity that affect respectively 58,5% and 19,9% of adults, 36,8% and 12,5% of children and teenagers

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