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Do you think the current food pyramid works?

Every five years the federal government updates its dietary guidelines for Americans. This year, with a majority of Americans now overweight, obese or at risk of high blood pressure, policymakers are working to reinvent the familiar food pyramid and develop advice that is both simple and blunt enough to help turn the tide.

By Jon DeNunzio  |  October 2, 2010; 5:00 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The current pyramid (at actually is pretty solid nutritional advice. Much better than the awful, agribusiness-friendly pyramid of a generation ago.

Posted by: vfr2dca | October 3, 2010 12:29 AM

Simple and blunt is a circle, not a triangle. People eat off of circles, cook within circles.
Using circles and having them fill them in correctly with food items offered as well as having them select the correct size of circles to use to hold the correct amounts is what they need.

Old story applies - A woman asked her mother why she always cut the shank end off of a ham to cook it. She told her her mother always cooked it that way. The woman then asked her grandmother why she did it. The grandmother told her it was because it was the only way she could get it to fit in the largest pot she owned.

People buy, cook, and eat according to the shapes they are familiar with and own. It affects choices far more than most guess. Consider take out food. Hamburgers and pizzas are circles, and the top chicken chain sold chicken in a circular container they called a bucket.

Posted by: Elisa2 | October 3, 2010 6:47 AM

The current food pyramid does not address sweeteners at all nor encourage more healthy oils. It does not mention eggs at all. It looks like it was written by the food industry.

The Mediterranean diet pyramid would be a good place to begin. Corn oils and corn sweeteners are hazardous to our health. It is a near certainty they are made with GM, genetically modified corn. We have too many franken foods available.

Posted by: alance | October 3, 2010 8:30 AM

The last I looked, the food pyramid had vertical stripes which made no sense at all. My suggestion is to hire Tufte to design a graphic that works. As for the contents, this suggested diet seems to have been a complete failure. All of the food guidelines, included the latest, have been political. I doubt any future guidelines will be any different since no one seems to know what the perfect diet is so any result is a negotiation.

Posted by: fran426 | October 3, 2010 10:42 AM

The food pyramid works for those who actually use it! The ones who ignore it and overeat at every chance are the problem not the pyramid.

Posted by: jslivesay | October 3, 2010 10:43 AM

The alternative developed by the Harvard School of Public Health under the guidance of Walter Willett (released in 2002!) is still far better than the USDA's guidelines.

Posted by: consider | October 3, 2010 10:55 AM

I use the Harvard School of Public Health's Healthy Eating Pyramid. As they mention on their website, they are not influenced by corporations, out of date science, or lobbyists.

Posted by: jackanliker | October 3, 2010 11:06 AM

It doesn't work because no one pays any attention to it, except the handful of people FRANTICALLY trying to redesign it: "American's are fatter than ever! Clearly, we need a new FOOD PYRAMID!" I want a snack! What should I eat? I know! I'll check the FOOD PYRAMID!

I challenge anyone to right now whip out a piece of paper and attempt to draw the food pyramid. Who the hell knows what's on it anymore? Who the hell cares? Ridiculous eating regimens like the fAtkins Diet have thrown all the rules out the window. Nutritionists and lobbyists are wasting their energy with their retarded triangle; no one gives a sh!t.

Will changing it to a FOOD CIRCLE help???? (hint: no)

Posted by: ComfortablyDumb | October 3, 2010 1:27 PM

The USDA (i.e., beef and dairy industry) have too much influence over the food pyramid. And in fact, they have too much influence over academic and nutritional research for anything where they have an input to be trusted.

Posted by: WPL22 | October 3, 2010 4:03 PM

The food pyramid has always been a product of corporate lobbying and poor-quality science. Food fads are not scientific and very little is actually known about nutrition and how our bodies actually use food.

That's why when you eat you should try to be as traditional as possible. Eat real food, not processed stuff that didn't even exist 60 years ago. You'll feel better and you'll get sick less often.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | October 3, 2010 7:15 PM

Until Americans will admit that obesity isn't a metabolic phenomenon, that it is the result of them gorging themselves on fast foods at every opportunity, they are going to be fat and getting fatter. Everything is planned to keep them from exercising. The tv remote alone probably adds millions of pounds of fat to Americans every year. Nobody is going to pay attention to the "food pyramid". No teacher uses felt boards any more. Who are these people talking about food pyramids? They must be ancients, huddled in a dark, forgotten corner of some failing religious "university" somewhere, trying to justify their existence.

I just re-read this and I am aware that I sound like a cranky, old misanthrope. Well, I almost am, but my misanthropy is directed only at those who are literally chomping their way into an early grave with the attendant costs being paid by others. To my dismay, I realized just recently that I have become a fatist. For one who sees one's self as a liberal Democrat it's appalling I don't mean that I want fat people ridiculed or laws passed to tax the over-weight. What I do want is never again to have the person sitting next to me on a plane whose stomach is so huge it is resting on the armrest next to me.

Like alcoholism, obesity must be recognized by the obese as a fact. Then and only then can they begin to deal with it. Let's have no talk of childhood trauma, genes, etc. That may all be true but it doesn't matter. You must deal with the here and now.

Just for the record, I am an 81 year-old woman, about 15 pounds overweight with an awareness of how difficult losing weight can be but with absolutely no sympathy for talk of traumas, early or late, or certainly not of metabolism. I don't remember the prayer alcoholics have, but I am aware of it, remember that it made a lot of sense for anyone with out-of-control behavior and if you're obese, you're out of control where your eating is concerned. Forget the food pyramid. It's boring and nobody is going to read it and should some do so they will pay it no attention.

Crabbed Fatist

Posted by: m_richert | October 3, 2010 7:31 PM

In a nation where portions are super-sized, stuffed full of sugar and hydrogenated oils, and its people can't be bothered to get off the couch and exercise, the food pyramid really won't help.

The reason I voted 'no' is because nobody follows it. It's not hard to read and actually provides some very basic and very good, solid advice on nutrition. But a message, no matter how urgent or good it is, is meaningless unless someone listens. America turned a deaf ear to good eating and healthy living a long time ago.

Posted by: jromaniello | October 3, 2010 9:26 PM

People learn their eating habits at home as children. If parents and children had some mandatory classes about diet, shopping, and cooking, tied into their children's schooling, something MIGHT change, but ignorance predominates. I was in the store last week and a VERY yound mother of two toddler's, obviously low income, was checking out ahead of me. besides a bunch of junk food, like potato chips, she had bought 6 boxes of some frozen, pre-made, in the bun hamburgers. I forgot the brand name, but that's immaterial. Besides poor nutrition, this little girl OBVIOUSLY knew NOTHING about economizing or a basic, healthy meal. Our schools simply don't teach the subjects or incorporate this type of sense, into any of their classes.

WHY?? Because it takes extra work and planning, and "It's not MY job!" REAL teachers, who are in the profession because they have a LOVE for teaching are VERY few and far between! Most nowadays are only in it because it's great pay and benefits for 9 months of day shift work!

Posted by: Maerzie | October 3, 2010 11:25 PM

P.S. I forgot to add: She paid for this overpriced convenience food with a credit card.

Posted by: Maerzie | October 3, 2010 11:28 PM

Not adequate at all. Meat and dairy are overrepresented in the pyramid due to industry lobbying.

Here's a picture of processed "chicken"; the stuff that makes up chicken nuggets, etc:

According to the pyramid this is part of a balanced diet.

Posted by: nadeemsx | October 4, 2010 12:05 AM

To all those who believe that this friendly little pyramid is at all worth one taxpayer dime, I've got one helluva bridge I'd like to sell to 'ya. Act now! At this price, they won't last long!

Posted by: CaughtInAMosh | October 4, 2010 12:08 AM

As a small person who does not dig ditches 8 hours a day, I have always found the nutrition advice to be ridiculous. I can gain weight on the advice of nutritionists. Smaller portions is what I need, not 4 servings of vegetables a day.

Posted by: dotell | October 4, 2010 3:07 AM

the 'food pyrmid,' like most government bright ideas, is the product of the classical group of government drunks sitting around a table trying to look busy. We just might be healthier if we simplly recognize the difference between protien and empty calories, for starters, and not pander to the chemical companies that spike our food. For example, how much does it hurt to stir your peanut butter, rather than having poison added to it just to save you the chore. And speaking of the munchies, gov still busts potheads and cigarettes are still legal?

Will the food pyramid completely ignore these issues? Does a wild bear...?

Posted by: memorybridge1 | October 4, 2010 5:32 AM

how about food makers lose the gigantic amount of sugar they use...
and how about more fiber in baked goods...

Posted by: DwightCollins | October 4, 2010 6:13 AM

While I agree too many of us indulge in fast food and feel that the huge portions often served require us to eat "the whole thing", I would like to make two points.

Eating a healthy diet with a concentration on fresh vegetables is not cheap. Those who lack the means, such as the woman describes in an early comment, find those junk foods far more filling and although they are overpriced, often less expensive than buying quality food.

In regard to exercise, it is difficult to encourage people to walk and move about when so many of our cities and counties (including mine) refuse to put in sidewalks and crosswalks on busy roads. I walk quite a bit and it is really no fun walking on narrow road shoulders with traffic whizzing by. Lacking crosswalks, it is almost impossible to get across the street. You can take this as gospel from someone who was walking for her health and was hit by a car.

I have petitioned, called my county multiple times about those two problems and even though there are actually federal grants to help pay for sidewalks, they have informed me in no uncertain terms they have no intention of improving the situation.

Posted by: n01cat1 | October 4, 2010 6:45 AM

Maybe something could be included to visually address portion size...and despite pressure from the meat and dairy industries, LESS (or even better - none)is the answer. Of course most overweight and obese people don't think they have a problem and are eating just fine the way they are.

Posted by: dotboy10 | October 4, 2010 7:10 AM

I am waiting for us to come full circle and discover once again the four basic food groups. The people "updating the nutritional guidelines" are just finding something to do while they are at work. This kind of thing could be contracted out. What do these Governmnt employees do the rest of the year?

Posted by: bobbo2 | October 4, 2010 7:10 AM

The food pyramid tells you the amounts of a food you should eat relative to other foods. But it doesn't tell you the total amount you should eat. And even if it did, who would listen? The fast food industry is hawking its goods via TV ads 24-7. And now being overweight is a "disease", relieving the overweight of the responsibility to take care of themselves.

Posted by: bikinibottom | October 4, 2010 7:25 AM

In some ways the current pyramid is upside down. Almost all holistically oriented health professionals argue that fruits and vegetables should be at the base of our food consumption. Grains and breads and lots of carbohydrates are both inflammatory in their effect in the body and full of cheap calories.

Supposedly, 70-80% of food consumed should be fruits and vegetables, with whole grain foods, light proteins (fish,fowl,lamb), unsaturated oils, nuts and seeds making up the remainder. Coal miners and construction laborers probably need more red meat, desk jockeys do not.

This combination also creates an alkalized inner atmosphere which helps prevent infection and the reproduction of most human pathogens (viral and bacterial) which are generally "pH dependent" acidophiles.

For many, the biggest deficit in their daily diet is sufficient water intake to assure good elimination of metabolic wastes (poison) that occurs as a result of cellular activity. 8-10 glasses of pure water helps keep the bowels moving and stool soft, it also insures good lymphatic volume and motility, keeping the internal waste portal system cleansed.

Dr. John R. Bomar

Author: "Treat infections by mobilizing and strengthening the immune response."

Posted by: johnrbomar | October 4, 2010 8:07 AM

elisa wrote>>>>>>>Old story applies - A woman asked her mother why she always cut the shank end off of a ham to cook it. She told her her mother always cooked it that way. The woman then asked her grandmother why she did it. The grandmother told her it was because it was the only way she could get it to fit in the largest pot she owned.

Haven't heard that story in decades - thanks for the reminder!
Good analogy that most adults primarily emulate UNhealthy eating and cooking patterns learned as children - until they wise up.

Posted by: angie12106 | October 4, 2010 8:17 AM

The best plate layout I've seen to date is the Diabetes poster. It not only is a guide to reduce calories and control blood sugar, it is also an excellent guide to prevent Type II Diabetes.

For main meals, it is really quite simple.

1/2 of the plate is cooked and raw vegetables and fruits
1/4 of the plate is carbs, and
1/4 of the plate is protein

Snacks throughout the day of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grain carbs, and the day's dietary needs are met.

Too many Americans take processed food short cuts. A few minutes saved today for convenience sake, will not only cut your life short, your final days will be spent dispensing pills to counter the effects of your "convenience."

Healthy eating guidelines are the same today as they were 100 years ago. Recreating the pyramid is another example of government redundancy.

Posted by: asmith1 | October 4, 2010 8:20 AM

I like the food pyramid, but I think its directed at educators. That's a start. To make it work we would need to begin with school meals reflecting the excellence in nutrition and each school day including 30 minute of vigorous exercise for all (including the teachers).

Posted by: TinMan2 | October 4, 2010 8:23 AM

Looking at the poll results so far, it looks like the majority of the respondents are ignorant fools (i.e., republicans)

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | October 4, 2010 8:47 AM

La piramide recomienda demasiado comida en un dia. Hay demasiado comidas procesada en los supermercados. los padres no guian a los hijos, le preguntan a los ninos que quieres comer o tomar, los padres tienen que decidir el menu;cuando veo ninos obesos lo que pienso es que no han tenido unos padres que les cuiden.

Posted by: mlgrscntrrs | October 4, 2010 9:36 AM

The pyramid itself isn't the problem, however, the BASIS of understanding the pyramid is a huge problem. I have never been able to figure out whether I'm following the pyramid or not for one simple reason: "Serving"?!? What on Earth constitutes a "Serving"?!? If this issue were solved, and put into more understandable terms--cups, ounces, something concrete--I would definitely use the pyramid. Until such luck.

Posted by: Eleiana | October 4, 2010 9:53 AM

The food pyramid works only if you like being told what and how to eat, instead of doing your own research. Eating live foods and getting the property exercise, are the only way to live a earthy life.

Posted by: demtse | October 4, 2010 10:23 AM

It's better than nothing, but not nearly discriminating enough about the nuances of nutrition. JACKANLIKER, thank you for posting the link to the Harvard pyramid. That is MUCH more useful than the US gov version.

Posted by: brighdeindigo | October 4, 2010 11:45 AM

It might work if anyone bothered to look at it; but with right wing politicians screaming about the government trying to force us to eat healthy, I suppose it will become a badge of honor among conservatives to be grossly overweight and diabetic. My ultra-conservative co-worker gets her Glucophage 'scrip covered by Medicare, shows up this morning bragging about spending her weekend watching television while consuming one gallon of ice cream and twelve hotdogs. So can we please stop paying the frieght for stupid food-addicted pigs?

Posted by: greyK | October 4, 2010 12:11 PM

I didn't even know there was a new pyramid! And I consider myself nutritionally aware. So I looked at it, and while it's useful in some ways, it needs to mention portion sizes for the areas other than grains. Eat more beans? I eat a bunch already; give me some sense of how much, please. Given how outlandish meal sizes have become in this country, giving an indication of how much (in a visual sense, like 'the size of a deck of cards', not in ounces - how many people have food scales?) is essential to help people figure out how much of something they should eat.

Posted by: L-cubed | October 4, 2010 12:48 PM

NO1CAT1's post touches on two very important facts. 1) It is much more expensive to eat healthy food than to eat garbage. 2) Much of our society is not organized to make room for or even allow normal physical activity.

Depending on where you live, dealing with those two issues is going require different strategies and will be more or less difficult. But once you start thinking about the reasons why we are getting more and more unhealthy, you start to realize that changing this trend means going against the grain of society.

Like I said in my first post, it's not complicated. Eat real food and do what your body actually wants to do, which is to be healthy and active. But doing either of things requires resistance to a lot of cultural norms. You've got to make the decision to spend a lot more money on food and less on other things. And you've got to make to the decision to organize your life (including your work) to incorporate physical activity in a way that you can sustain and enjoy for the rest of your life. And then you have to act on the decisions.

Or you could just keep eating McDonalds, sitting in a cube and watching TV. But in any case, the decision is yours alone.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | October 4, 2010 12:48 PM

For an effective (and round!) alternative food groups graphic, see the interactive website This option, developed this year by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, is a great teaching tool. There is also a wealth of resources for health care providers at the same site.

Posted by: GoBlueNP | October 4, 2010 4:18 PM

For an effective (and round!) alternative food groups graphic, see the interactive website This option, developed this year by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, is a great teaching tool. There is also a wealth of resources for health care providers at the same site.

Posted by: GoBlueNP | October 4, 2010 4:18 PM

The whole subject of obesity, what to eat, how much of different things to eat, etc. is immensely complex. The complexity is compounded by vast metabolic and digestive differences between individuals. And, if that isn't enough, the fact that for many of us, the enjoyment we get from eating is often one of the few sources of regular pleasure available in life.

Want to solve the problem easily, quickly and cheaply? Here's how. It would be easy to create a food concentrate containing all the right stuff (fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals fiber, etc.). It wouldn't be that hard to know how much of this concentrate a particular individual should have on a particular day (for example more on days when one runs or plays tennis). The amount of concentrate would be changed if the individuals resting metabolic rate or digestive efficiency changed. You'd throw the concentrate in a blender with water and beat it up. The end result would deliberately have little taste. For the elderly who aren't eating enough, flavoring could be added to make it more palatable. This would be the only food substance individuals were permitted to eat. No alcoholic beverages, no soda (not even diet soda), no popcorn at the movies. Maybe we'll permit black coffee and tea. Obviously this ain't going to be.

But this does illustrate the difficulty in trying to eat "properly". We are expecting folks to come up with a diet that over time meets the above criteria and with the added criteria that the stuff they eat is enjoyable. Our genetics don't understand that for many of us, food has become a hazard. Fat and sugars taste good because they are full of calories, long term ones and short term ones. Our bodies store the calories so we are prepared for the next really hard winter, or have sufficient energy to fight off lions and alligators.

Unless our genes change, we are in an unenviable situation. Spend part of our time being a little hungry, eat lots of stuff that lacks much appeal (carrots, lettuce, broccoli, etc) , and, for all intensive purpose, accept that eating will not normally be an enjoyable activity. For me this is unacceptable so, at least for now, I have a temporary solution. Exercise like mad (weights and exercise machines) to build as much muscle tissue as possible. This raises my resting metabolism which then burns off lots and lots of calories. As a result I can eat much more of things I like (but I've still had to stop all alcohol and ice cream like stuff - too many calories). My personal situation is made more complicated in that quantity is important. Better no ice cream than a small amount. I dread the day this process stops working (illness, age, etc.)

Bottom line ... As long as we keep up the belief that overeating and being overweight is a matter of choice, we're going to make little progress. We're asking people to undertake a difficult and complex task that goes against many of their instincts.

Posted by: billsecure | October 4, 2010 4:28 PM

The new pyramid is completely wrong on meats, milk and oils, and has too much emphasis on grains.

The only thing it gets right is vegetables.

Eat lots & lots of colorful vegetables.

Avoid grain. Humans didn't evolve to eat grain, and it's inflammatory. Even worse, refined grains such as white flour & white rice cause metabolic stress and can lead to obesity, diabetes & heart disease, and can raise your "bad" cholesterol levels.

Limit sugars of all kinds, particularly those high in fructose.

Try to keep your total carb intake -- both grains & sugars -- averaging about 150g or less per day. Most Americans consume over 300g per day and it is THE reason why we have such high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Avoid unsaturated vegetable oils. The more processed the oil is, the more likely it is to be rancid and inflammatory. Saturated fats are stable & safe, and actually have no effect on heart disease or cholesterol. Studies saying that they were the cause were wrong for a variety of reasons. Cholesterol you consume has no effect on serum cholesterol!

Eat natural-fed meat! Cows evolved eating grass, not grain. Chickens evolved eating bugs, not corn. And so on. Natural-fed meat has better ratios of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, are high in protein and vitamins, and are what humans evolved to eat, along with "found" vegetables.

Agriculture is why we have civilization. But it's also why we have obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. We simply are not set up to eat grains. At all.

Posted by: Duodenum | October 4, 2010 5:31 PM

@BillSecure - I think I understand why you wrote what you did but honestly, I think it's all nonsense.

Food is not a "complex" subject. For as long as homo sapiens has been on this planet it has figured out ways to eat. Wherever we have gone, we have determined which plants and animals we can safely eat. We know what food is and in different places we know (or knew until recently) which food combinations are best.

Synthetic "food?" We've got that already, and you can find it in vending machines, fast-food restaurants and supermarkets. It's hasn't worked yet because scientists understand very, very little about how our bodies use food. Michael Pollan has pretty much covered all this in "Food Rules" and "In Defense of Food." Either can be found at your local library and are simple, easy reads.

Frankly, it sounds mostly like you are looking for an excuse for your own weight problem. I'm genuinely sorry, but I don't think you have an excuse. You've gotten used to (or addicted to) fatty, salty artificial "food" which gives you a temporarily satisfying rush but which is not actually nutritious. Then your body feels like it needs more because it's not getting any actual food.

Addictions are very difficult to overcome, but not impossible. Forget the excuses, forget the "complexity" you've imagined and just make it a priority for you to eat real food and only real food (and keep up with the exercise). It WILL be hard at first. But once you start to feel the difference, you may find you never want to touch junk food again. Good food really is its own reward.

I hope I am not being too harsh, but I kinda know what you're going through. And sometimes a harsh word is more kind than a soft one. Sincerely, good luck and good health to you.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | October 4, 2010 5:36 PM

@BigBrother1: I appreciate your concern but I think my point was missed. In a very short period of time, as a species we've moved from having to eat anything and everything we could to remain alive to today where the same behavior is potentially life threatening.

The things that were best for us then (maximize calories) are bad for us now. I don't see a flaw in this premise.

On the other hand, it is very easy to oversimplify the topic and treat food related issues as resting on easy persona choice (rather than looking for solutions). There may be an addictive component to certain foods, but why? I believe there is a large genetic component.

We've learned from studying substance abuse the role of dopamine receptors.

To generally get the "overweight problem" under control we have to understand its components and attempt to deal with them. I see little effort made to do that.

Once I understood myself and my needs better, weight control became easier. (At my worst I was 215, 71 inches tall with lots of fat. Today,older, 185, 70 inches and mainly muscle, legs like telephone poles).

The homilies about eat the right foods, eat mainly plant, etc. were not viable for me. I had to identify the areas I could control and then do so.

The synthetic food thing was only to make a point, sorry that wasn't clear. It removed choices. Humans have not been (via free will) making the right choices about food for thousands of years. For most of those years there were very few choices. Out of time so I'll stop & post.

Posted by: billsecure | October 4, 2010 6:07 PM

BillSecure: Your points are well taken. We probably still disagree on a few things, but I think we've both made our cases.

For the general audience, here's a link on what's actually in Chicken McNuggets...

Posted by: bigbrother1 | October 4, 2010 8:16 PM

As a tool for guiding the public on basic health and nutrition I believe the Food Guide Pyramid does that when it is explained by a nutrition/health expert. Standing alone as a visual tool it is not as powerful a teaching tool without some guidance, and the public may miss understand its practical application fully.
The Food Guide Pyramid is lacking in that it is based off of a 2000 cal diet, which in my opinion makes it difficult for most people to understand because everyone does not need 2000 cal daily, in fact most don’t.
The fact that it does not address sugar as a food group is correct, because it is not a food group. The use of the pyramid shape appears to be adequate and does the same thing I believe a circle graft or bar graft would do, showing the ratio of foods from each food group to be consumed on an average day. The Food Guide Pyramid uses a good combination of images: the pyramid, pictures of foods, stairs and words to get the message across.
The real question is anybody hearing (listening to) the message? I comment the USDA for wanting to get the public’s attention and the fact that they are willing to tweak the Food Guide Pyramid once again says to me just how important this message is.
Obesity is at epidemic proportions, and the incidences of diabetes are equally alarming. We need all stakeholders: the government, health care professionals, and fitness professional, concerned parents and citizens and last but not least the food industry on board.
There are a lot of tools out there to help the public with health and nutrition some good some bad, The Diabetic Plate, The Healthy Eating Pyramid and The Power Plate are great ones. But no tools is effective if not put to use.

Posted by: fauntleroyv | October 7, 2010 9:50 AM

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