In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a public meeting in which they received 49 comments pertaining to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) Advisory Committee Report. Professional societies, practitioners and private citizens alike urged the federal government to take advantage of the opportunity to improve the overall health of Americans.
DGAs, created by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), have been published every five years since 1980 to serve as the foundation for federal food and nutrition education programs. The 2010 DGA was the first to target obesity and overweight, and commenters urged a total lifestyle adjustment through several primary themes.
Four main suggestions to address overweight and obesity in the U.S. population were made by the DGA committee: calorie reduction, increased exercise, including more plant-based foods in the diet, and limiting foods with extra sugar, sodium and solid fats. All strategies would focus on children as well.
The Organic Trade Association’s executive director and CEO Christine Bushway urged the DGA committee to inform those concerned with exposure to toxic chemicals to look for the USDA Organic label on products when shopping. She also suggested that guidelines should aim to inform parents on how to reduce their child’s pesticide exposure.
Bushway noted concern with statements in “Conventional and Organically Produced Foods,” which draws the conclusion that conventional and organically grown foods offer similar nutritional value. Bushway argues that this conclusion is devoid of scientific foundation and defies the advice offered by the recent President’s Cancer Panel report that claims “exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.”
Comments also addressed the shift toward a plant-based diet. While some feared such a diet would cause Americans to avoid animal byproducts such as eggs and dairy that offer essential nutrients, others considered this a viable option. Supporters recanted that animal products are almost always lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than meat.
Of note, the DGA committee also recommended the creation of new categories for fats (cholesterol raising and non-cholesterol raising). Some companies took issue with the suggestion for reducing the saturated fat guidelines by 3–5%, believing that “science does not support the recommendation to lower saturated fat intake or reclassifying stearic acid as a non-cholesterol raising fat, nor does it answer what the impact may be if stearic acid is consumed at higher levels,” according to a press statement issued by Loders Croklaan.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition felt the guidelines failed to mention the contributions that dietary supplements make to overall health.
Conveying the 2010 DGA to Americans was also an issue, as consumer messaging must be positive, consistent and realistically feasible to be successful. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2010 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Safety, Nutrition & Health, two-thirds of Americans make conscious changes about the type, amount and frequency of food that they consume. The survey also reports, however, that out of the 85% of Americans who are aware of the U.S. Department if Agricultures MyPyramid, only 29% attempt to maintain a balanced diet. Results suggest that Americans have the desire to improve their health, but require consistent constructive encouragement to achieve their goals.
The DGA committee offered several suggestions for improving consumer knowledge of nutrition including increased education programs about nutrition and health, teaching families how to cook healthy foods at home, creating financial incentives to eat healthy foods and making fresh produce readily available and affordable to all Americans.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2010