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George L. Blackburn is working on a program to train doctors and nutritionists to start using the USDA’s Interactive Healthy Eating program.
But last week, he used the website for a less scientific endeavor—analyzing a day’s worth of food from the Quincy House dining hall.
“Let’s have some fun,” Blackburn chuckled as he swiveled his desk chair over to the computer, no doubt making a mental note of the four steps that his personal pedometer had just missed.
A selection from the Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) menu—oatmeal and orange juice for breakfast; pizza, milk and quinoa for lunch, and manicotti and baked chicken breast with a Boston cream pie for dinner—received a mixture of smiling and frowning “emoticons” from the site. The index draws a pyramid based on the proportions from the food groups that were eaten that day. In this case, it more closely resembled a barbell than a pyramid.
Overall, the sample meal scored 63.9 out of 100.
“It’s a start,” Blackburn generously offered, before admitting that his scores are in the high 70s and low 80s.
Though the USDA website strives to be user-friendly, it receives very little traffic.
But at Harvard, at least, students want more nutritional tools.
A HUDS survey last spring showed that students wanted nutrition information linked to the HUDS menu online, according to HUDS Director of Marketing and Communications Alix McNitt.
The information is now available on the HUDS website.
Still, she said HUDS has no plans to adopt a website like the one Blackburn is pushing, which evaluates the overall diet instead of merely giving nutrition facts.
“In some respects we’re limited by the way in which we pull data out of our menu management system,” said McNitt, citing computer programming difficulties.
“We’re just happy that we can make this data happen, given that students requested it so much last spring,” she said.
—Jonathan P. Abel
—The USDA’s Interactive Healthy Eating Index can be found at http://www.usda.gov/cnpp/ihei.html.
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