Celebrating National Nutrition Month® 2012: How Can You Help Others Get Their “Plate in Shape?”

By Kate Hebel, RD, LDN

March 1st marks the first day of National Nutrition Month® (NNM), a month-long nutrition education campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). Following the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, the new MyPlate logo replaced the MyPyramid logo. To help educate Americans on how to utilize the new MyPlate, this year’s NNM theme is “Get Your Plate in Shape.” The logo builds on MyPlate, featuring a heart-shaped plate, also divided into four sections representing the various food groups, plus a milk bottle to represent the dairy group. However, this logo includes examples of healthy foods in the graphic. Additionally, the plate is lifting a barbell, which ties in the importance of physical activity.

But NNM is about more than just a logo; it’s about what that logo stands for. The goal of NNM is to encourage Americans to eat a healthy, balanced diet and get the recommended amounts of each food group. Another goal is to raise awareness of registered dietitians. Dietitians and nutrition professionals are key in translating logos such as MyPlate and the “Get Your Plate in Shape” logo into practical diet and lifestyle changes for Americans.

The key messages for NNM 2012, in alignment with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, are as follows:

  • Make half your plate fruit and vegetables
  • Make at least half your grains whole
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk
  • Vary your protein choices
  • Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars
  • Enjoy your food but eat less
  • Be physically active your way

The great thing about NNM is that it provides a forum to increase awareness of and discuss evidence-based nutrition information such as the key messages listed above. As students and professionals in the nutrition field, it’s important for us to acknowledge that the public isn’t as up-to-date as we are. When talking with my friends and family members who work in unrelated fields, I’ve found that most of them don’t even know MyPlate replaced MyPyramid. Needless to say, they are also unaware that March is NNM.

NNM started off as a weeklong event in 1973 and was converted into a monthlong campaign in the 1980s due to the growing public interest in nutrition. While NNM has existed for over three decades, I didn’t learn about it until a few years ago when I was accepted into my undergraduate nutrition program. NNM is growing in momentum but has yet to reach the notoriety of other public health campaigns such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Movember.

The success of NNM relies heavily on the help of professionals and students in all health and nutrition fields. There are many ways that you personally can participate in the festivities this month. If you are looking for ways to promote NNM at work or school, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) offers many event ideas on their website. There are many easy ways to get everyone involved. For example, take the initiative to send out a NNM “Tip of the day” to coworkers, family, and friends. You can even subscribe to the “Tip of the Day” RSS feed for tip ideas.

If you have a personal blog, incorporate NNM into your posts this month focusing on the key messages and easy ways for your readers to implement these changes into their lifestyles or simply post about NNM to help raise awareness. You can also download the NNM widget here to show your support. If you are blogging about NNM, submit your blog URL to media@eatright.org to have it added to the official NNM Blogroll. You can also link to interactive games, quizzes, and videos.

Some schools and work places choose to celebrate NNM with a health fair or expo. If you are designing a presentation or developing a nutrition booth there are nutrition education materials specifically designed for this year’s theme and key messages. These handouts can also be used with patients or clients in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

NNM can be a fun campaign for children to get involved in too. If you know any teachers or have ties in your community to schools, Team Nutrition, part of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, offers a PDF booklet of classroom activities. AND has also designed a “Classroom Guide for 2012.”

Lastly, don’t forget that March 14th is the fifth annual Registered Dietitian Day! Be sure to recognize all of the RDs in your life. Send an E-card or an edible arrangement or decorate with a colorful “Thank you!” banner. If you’re an RD, show your pride and spend the day telling people about the amazing work dietitians do. For more ideas on celebrating Registered Dietitian Day click here.

Remember, the success of this campaign is in your hands. So blog about it, tweet about it or just tell anyone who will listen about National Nutrition Month® and how important it is to “Get Your Plate in Shape.” We’ve all worked hard to hone our nutrition knowledge, and this is the perfect opportunity to share that knowledge with the public, our families, and friends. Now ask yourself, how can you help spread the word?

*Photo source 1; photo source 2; photo source 3

Kate Hebel is a first year Nutrition Communication student and registered dietitian. Still new to the neighborhood, she loves exploring the city. When she isn’t wandering the streets of Boston, she enjoys running, yoga, and experimenting with new recipes to share with her friends.   

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