New Dietary Guidelines Released by USDA and HHS

By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD   Date: 2/2/11
 
On Monday the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Policy Report. These new federal guidelines, which are updated every five years, set the standard for federal nutrition policy in the U.S. and provide science-based guidance for health professionals who work with Americans every day in their quest to lose weight and improve their health through diet and exercise. This is no easy task, as the report points out poor diets and physical inactivity are associated with the major causes of death and chronic disease, placing a tremendous impact on the cost of health care in the U.S.

Unfortunately, this release came at a time when most Americans' attention is focused on the Middle East. While we did see coverage of the new guidelines in major media outlets like the Washington PostLA Times, New York Times, and various nightly newscasts, it was largely eclipsed by other events around the world. This represents a missed opportunity to have national dialogue using the latest evidenced-based science about what it means to have an active, healthy lifestyle. 

What has changed from 2005 to 2010?
The science-based recommendations have not changed drastically from the previous iteration of the policy report. Americans are still being encouraged to:
- Consume more fruits and vegetables,
- Eat more whole grains,
- Drink fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products,
- Be mindful of protein choices (opting for lean whenever possible),
- Increase consumption of seafood,
- Use oils in lieu of solid fats
And do all of this while reducing consumption of foods and beverages that are high in saturated and trans fat, sugar and sodium.

The dietary guidelines have traditionally been recommended for healthy people ages two and older. However, with more than two-thirds of the population struggling with overweight and obesity, the new guidelines place a larger emphasis on managing calories to help manage weight. Two themes sum up the emphasis of the report:
1. Maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight.  
2. Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

Relaying the Message Using Consumer Terms
According to the New York Times article, Robert C. Post, deputy director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the Agriculture Department, said regulators hoped simple messages [contained in the report] would resonate better than the more technical prose of the past. Ideally, the guidelines are to be used by health professionals and others who can translate the technical prose into consumer-friendly terms, but the new report recognizes the need for simple messages. Accordingly, one of the consumer messages from the new report is to, "Enjoy your food, but eat less."

This new consumer-friendly language is a move in the right direction, but health professionals should not be concerned that they'll be out of a job anytime soon. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that Americans learn how to make these simple recommendations a reality and to translate some of the more technical advice into consumer-friendly language. If there is one thing I've learned from conducting consumer research over the years, it is that even the simplest nutrition advice can fall short when it comes to the stress of day-to-day life. So communication is key, but helping consumers understand how to overcome obstacles and tap into the reasons why they eat what they eat is just as important.

Over the next few months we'll be blogging more about the new dietary guidelines and developing resources that help put the new recommendations into perspective based on our wealth of consumer insights. To stay up to date with our insights, subscribe to the FoodInsight blog and sign up to get monthly updates that give you the 411 on new materials on FoodInsight.org.

Do you feel that the new guidelines are drastically different from the previous iteration? What was your key takeaway?