Questions and Answers About the Dietary Guidelines For Americans

The information below has recently been updated to reflect the current development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. 

Q: What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, who are they for and how are they used?

A: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the foundation for the Federal Government's nutrition policy, education, outreach and food assitance programs. The Dietary Guidelines “shall contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public, shall be based on the preponderance of scientific and medical knowledge current at the time of publication.” They are published jointly by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA), as mandated by Congress. The goal of the Dietary Guidelines is to provide science-based nutrition and food safety recommendations for people two years and older to help promote habits that maximize good health and reduce the risk for chronic disease. The Guidelines can serve as a manual for registered dietitians, health professionals and the public health communities and are the basis for Federal food and nutrition education initiatives.

Q: How often are the Dietary Guidelines updated?

A: US Law requires the Dietary Guidelines to be updated every 5 years. The USDA and HHS issued the first edition of the Dietary Guidelines in 1980 as a consumer nutrition education tool for healthy Americans aged two years and older.

Q: How are the Dietary Guidelines developed?

A: Every time the Dietary Guidelines are revised, new scientific data are considered, thus altering the recommendations as appropriate.  Although nutrition science continues to emerge and evolve, the Dietary Guidelines are based on the preponderance of consensus science available at the time of revision.

The process for Dietary Guidelines development is two-phased. First, public nominations of leading American experts in human nutrition and chronic disease prevention that are not Federal employees are solicited by the Federal Government to serve on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). Final selections for the DGAC are made by the Federal Government.

Once selected, the DGAC is responsible for a thorough review of the previous DGA as well as the peer-reviewed literature that has been published since the previous DGAs were released. Based on their review, the DGAC develops and submits an advisory report of its recommendations (complete with rationales) to the Federal Government.

The DGAC Report should not be confused with the Dietary Guidelines—they are two separate documents. The DGAC Report is taken into consideration by the Federal Government as they publish the official policy document known as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Q: We’ve had Dietary Guidelines since 1980, but the U.S. continues to have an “obesity epidemic.” How will these Guidelines help?

A: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were unique in that, for the first time ever, they were written for a primarily overweight and obese population; previous iterations of the Guidelines were aimed at a healthy population.  In light of an increase in the percentage of Americans who are overweight and obese, today’s guidance considers nutrient adequacy in the context of calorie management and increasing physical activity to a much greater extent than past guidance.

The causes of obesity are numerous and complex.  While the Dietary Guidelines do not serve as a “weight-loss diet,” they are designed to address the increasing weight gain in the population and to help all Americans manage and/or maintain their weight as appropriate. It is both an opportunity and challenge to communicate the recommendations in a useful and consumer-friendly way to help individuals make wise choices about maintaining a healthful lifestyle and weight.

Q:  Why was MyPlate developed?

MyPlate, the official food icon of the Dietary Guidelines, is a science-based depiction of food groups and how to consume a healthful diet based on the Dietary Guidelines. MyPlate is part of a comprehensive nutrition communications initiative that provides consumers with user-friendly recommendations, a comprehensive website with expanded information, and other helpful resources, including SuperTracker, an interactive, online dietary assessment and planning tool for consumers.

MyPlate is meant to serve as a simple guide to help consumers choose healthful foods.  This update came in response to a call to action from the 2010 White House Child Obesity Task Force to provide simple, useful advice that consumers can easily understand.  MyPlate also provides visual reminders to help consumers make nutritious food choices and form healthful eating habits consistent with Dietary Guidelines.

Consumers who visit can receive a personalized plan based on their calorie needs by entering their age, gender, and physical activity level in the Daily Food Plan.  Consumers can also find user-friendly tips and strategies for making smart choices from every food group. 

MyPlate is available in a variety of languages.

Q: How are the Dietary Guidelines meant to be used? What can consumers do to implement the guidance?

A: The government agencies use the Dietary Guidelines and other resources to develop research-based consumer messages for use by public and health educators.  The key to the success of the Dietary Guidelines ultimately lies in the ability to communicate them effectively to consumers. To help translate recommendations into behavior, consumers consistently ask for specific actions that they can relate to, individualize and incorporate into their lifestyle.  They also seek positive information to keep them motivated to achieve their desired diet and lifestyle goals. 

Q: How does IFIC communicate the Dietary Guidelines?

A: IFIC works with a variety of stakeholders (including government partners) to determine what communications will inspire action toward achieving dietary guidance.  Most recently, the Dietary Guidelines Alliance, a public-private partnership among leading food, nutrition and health organizations and societies, industry organizations, and the federal government, of which IFIC is a founding member, completed a comprehensive research project to explore how American families might respond to messaging related to the key recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.

In terms of motivating parents to make positive diet and lifestyles changes related to these recommendations overall, the following messages tested best among American families:

  • Know your number. Learning how many calories you should consume in a day is a critical first step in managing your weight.
  • Fun stuff counts as exercise!  Get active with the family whether it’s soccer in the backyard, dancing to music or taking a walk in your neighborhood. 
  • Take charge of your weight. Balancing the calories you eat and drink with the calories you burn though physical activity puts you in control.
  • Small steps = big changes. Serve smaller portions to help curb calories and keep your weight on the right track. 
  • Base your plate on nutrient-rich foods that offer beneficial nutrients and fewer calories.  Choose fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, beans and nuts, and low-fat and fat-free dairy foods more often.
  • You are an important role model for your children.  Show your family how to savor their favorite higher-calorie foods and beverages by enjoying smaller portions together.

These consumer-tested messages provide a framework for future communications on key areas of dietary guidance. For more information on the Alliance research titled, “Motivating Families to Achieve Healthier Lifestyles in 2011 and Beyond,” and for a copy of the Research Report, click here.


Check out the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Resource Page