By: Rebecca J. Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
ASN blogger at EB2011
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) are a really big deal because they impact every single American in one way or another. Whether it's school lunches, food assistance programs, or the rising cost of healthcare chances are the DGAs had a role in influencing the current state of affairs.
The DGAs represent the foundation of the U.S. Government's effort
to provide broad-based nutrition guidance for all Americans over
the age of two years old. All Government nutrition-related
programs (SNAP, WIC, school lunches etc.) rely on the DGAs. Who
else might use the DGAs? Nutrition educators, especially those
who are using textbooks or who are employed by the Government,
any health professional who uses the DGAs as a tool for education
(e.g. doctors, nurses, or dietitians who give a DGAs handout to a
patient), and companies who want to educate consumers on how
their food fits within the DGAs... oh, and pretty much ANY
American with an internet connect who chooses to read them.
It is an exciting time whenever the new DGAs are released (they
are reviewed and edited every five years). ASN researchers
are looking for gaps in evidence to influence possible research
areas and those who work directly with the public are interested
to to learn about the changes... with both groups likely asking
the question; "will these DGAs accomplish their goals?"
USDA makes their goal very clear: "to promote health, reduce the
risk of chronic diseases, and reduce the prevalence of overweight
and obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. (no
With such a critical role, it's worth understanding how the DGAs are developed, exploring what influenced the DGAs, and ponder future implications.
It is a lengthy process to develop the DGAs.
Development process schematic:
- USDA forms a committee
- USDA hosts a public meeting
- Committee report submitted to Secretaries of USDA and HHS
- USDA and HHS produce the 96-page “plain language” report for
the public. This document becomes the basis for all Government
Changes to the DGAs
- 23 recommendations for general population and 6 subpopulation groups, which you can view in the full report and executive summary.
- Maintain weight by balancing calories from food intake and exercise (energy burn).
- Recommendation to get 8 ounces of fish a week.
- Various, simple consumer messages like "make half your plate fruit and vegetables"
- Some re-naming of food groups going on too: Meat & Beans became “protein foods” Milk became “dairy foods” and this year, there are specific recommendations for people who are vegetarians.
- Increase vegetables and fruits, whole grains, seafood, oils and low fat dairy products.
- Limit sodium intake to less than 2300 milligrams a day.
- Reduce intake from solid fats and added sugars.
Top sources of calories in diets ages two and older, in order:
- Grain based desserts (cakes, brownies, donuts etc.)
- Yeast breads
- Chicken and chicken mixed dishes
- Soda, energy, and sports drinks (added sugars)
Right now solid fats and added sugars are 35% of calorie intake,
according to the DGAs report.
Opportunities for Research
What do you think are the best opportunities for research that
may help inform the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans?
One researcher in attendance brought up the new seafood guideline
and wondering about availability and environmental impact?
Someone else brought up the need to shift from added sugars and
processed carbohydrates in the top four calorie sources to "half
plate fruits and vegetables". Someone else in the audience
asked "should be studying Americans eating habits on an ongoing
basis and tweaking recommendations more often than every five
I thought these were all excellent questions to ponder. Are you planning on studying the DGAs in the future? What will YOU be looking at?