2010 Dietary Guidelines: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD  Date: 7/13/10

Last week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture convened a public meeting to hear oral testimony from the public related to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee Report, which the federal government will use to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In total, 49 oral comments were provided by various stakeholders including private citizens, academia, professional societies, practitioners, and advocacy and industry groups. 


While numerous and varying opinions were voiced, there were some topics that garnered more attention than others, and a few common themes emerged.  


  • Consumer messaging: for the DGA to be a success, messaging must be positive, actionable, and consistent across all government programs to create one nutrition voice for the consumer.

  • Whole foods and total diet should be promoted, with limited focus individual nutrients.

  • Opinions on processed foods varied from concerns about certain ingredients in processed foods to the notion that science in processing can help the population meet dietary guidance recommendations.

  • The topic of shifting to a plant-based diet may have received the most attention during oral comments.  There was some concern that consumers would interpret "plant-based" as vegetarian and reduced consumption of animal foods such as eggs, dairy, and lean meats, which are nutrient-rich food options with a variety of low calorie options. Supporters of the shift toward a plant-based questioned the superiority of animal over plant proteins and highlight the nutrition profile of plant-based food options that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, calories, and high in fiber when compared to certain animal products. 


After listening to a day of well-intentioned oral testimony from people who are interested in seeing the health of Americans become improved through healthier diets and more active lifestyles, I was struck by a survey finding that appeared in the August 2010 issue of Vanity Fair. According to the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll, Americans were asked, "If you could do any one of the following things without worrying about its effect on your health, which would you choose?" The number one response-with a big margin-was eating whatever you want (43%). Other responses, including never exercise (17%), getting a good tan (10%), and smoking (8%), didn't even come close to Americans' desire to eat food that tastes good. On one hand, it appears that Americans have learned that having a healthful diet can have in impact on their long term health. However, it also appears that the cornerstones of preventing weight gain, eating a healthful diet within individual calorie needs and engaging in regular physical activity-the exact things that the DGAC report is encouraging Americans to do more of-is a big struggle for many Americans. 


While numerous and varying opinions were voiced, many of the people providing oral testimony recognized that the federal government has a unique opportunity through the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to provide clear, consistent and actionable advice that can motivate Americans to make healthful lifestyles changes that include eating a healthful diet and getting regular exercise. 


If you are interested in seeing what other people have to say about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report, check out the public comments that are posted on the USDA's Web site: www.dietaryguidelines.gov. Do you have thoughts on how the federal government can improve upon the Dietary Guidelines for Americans? You have until Thursday, July 15th to share your ideas with them. 


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