Center for Communications, Health and the Environment
Spring 2011Vol. 6, Issue 1
New U.S. Dietary Guidelines Target Consumption to Combat Obesity, Other Chronic Diseases

Dietary Guidelines 2010 Focus on Obesity, Call for Reduced Sodium, Fat and Sugar Intake

Poor diet and physical inactivity are the principal contributors to an epidemic of overweight and obesity that is affecting men, women and children throughout the United States, and the world.  They are also major causes of global morbidity and mortality.

The new Dietary Guidelines were released on January 31, 2011, and are more understandable and actionable than previous versions.

Against this backdrop, the new 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) were released on January 31, 2011.

First published in 1980, the DGA are reviewed, updated and jointly released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services every five years.  They offer advice for making food choices that promote good health and weight, and form the basis of federal nutrition policy, education, outreach and assistance programs.  The current guidelines are also intended to assist with disease prevention in Americans ages 2 years and older, including those at increased risk of chronic diseases.  

The 2010 DGA were developed using an evidence-based systematic review process involving a 13-member advisory committee of nutrition and public health experts.  They take into account the woeful state of American health, with particular emphasis on the challenges of obesity and proper nutrition for children, as well as national food availability and consumption patterns.

Key Recommendations
The 2010 DGA include 23 key recommendations for all Americans, and six recommendations for specific population groups.  The recommendations incorporate two overarching concepts aimed at curbing obesity and improving public health.  These dietary threads focus on:

  1. balancing calories to manage body weight, which includes controlling total calorie intake and increasing physical activity.  
  2. consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, seafood and fat-free/low-fat milk, rather than calorie-dense fare full of solid fats, added sugars and refined grains that make it difficult to achieve recommended nutrient intake while controlling calorie and sodium consumption.

The 2010 DGA recommendations feature a section on “Foods and Food Components to Reduce” with specific suggestions that include:

  • Lower daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) – and to 1,500 mg among persons 51 and older, African Americans and people with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Consume alcohol in moderation, if consumed at all —up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men of legal drinking age.

Meanwhile, the “Foods and Nutrients to Increase” segment of the recommendations counsels Americans to:

  • Increase vegetable and fruit intake.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains.
  • Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
  • Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oils.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.
  • Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets. (Such foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products.)
This graph from the new DGA reveals that Americans fall significantly short on suggested intakes of most recommended foods, nutrients and vitamins, and in many cases far exceed the limits set for food components to reduce.  It is based on data from: USDA, Agricultural Research Service and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001–2004 or 2005–2006.

The 2010 guidelines also take into account specific population groups.  For individuals ages 50 years and older, for example, they encourage consumption of foods with added vitamin B12, such as fortified cereals, or dietary supplements.  The DGA also offer food and nutrient advice for women capable of becoming pregnant and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

For a complete list of Key Recommendations, go to http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/ExecSumm.pdf.  Or to view the DGA document in its entirety, visit http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. 

The Five-Year Difference
Generally speaking, the DGA are consistent over the years, and their recommendations, while sensible and based on emerging science, are often vague. 

Compared to the 2005 guidelines, however, “the messages [in the 2010 DGA] are more understandable,” commented Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan in a 1/31/11 statement.  And they are decidedly more actionable, with a targeted list that advises consumers to:

  • Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  • Avoid oversized portions.
  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
  • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
The 2010 DGA call for increased seafood consumption.  (Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, Chapter 5)

In the process of developing the new guidelines, some committee meetings were streamed live via a Webinar format, allowing Americans to hear deliberations and see presentations. And a public comments process ensured a transparent and democratic process.  The guidelines acknowledge the profound influence of current U.S. food, screen time and living environments on Americans’ eating behaviors and dietary and physical activity choices.  They also incorporate research on eating patterns for the first time, and the eating patterns presented now include vegetarian adaptations.

While the 2005 guidelines put forth precise consumption amounts in various food groups, the 2010 Key Recommendations for food group intake are merely directional.  Yet the new guidelines offer many specifics.  They advocate for increased seafood consumption.  They identify specific foods that should be limited because of their high sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat and added sugars.  They urge the public to reduce daily sodium intake, and provide detailed daily amounts and parameters.

Specific actions underway to implement the guidelines include the push to improve school foods, to require menu labeling in chain restaurants and to fund community programs promoting healthy eating and physical activity.

Nevertheless, Wootan warns, “[W]ithout even more serious governmental efforts—such as banning artificial trans fat and limiting sodium in packaged foods—the Dietary Guidelines will hardly be sufficient to fend off the costly and debilitating diet-related illnesses that afflict millions of Americans.”

In fact, it will undoubtedly take a lot more than dietary guidelines to reverse the nation’s damaging diet and deteriorating health.  Scientists estimate that only 3 percent of the population follows the DGA.  And even if that number is closer to 10 percent as CSPI predicts, that’s hardly enough to inspire a sea change.  By acknowledging that good food decisions are increasingly difficult and by offering concrete “fixes,” the 2010 DGA may garner increased attention, and become a greater force in moving Americans to heed the call to health.

Read More:
Lead Article: Dietary Guidelines 2010 Focus on Obesity, Call for Reduced Sodium, Fat and Sugar Intake
Spotlight Article: High Sodium Intakes Compromise Health, Compel Consumption Cut
Pressure to “Dump Soda” Prompts Pepsi Pull-out from Schools Worldwide

Copyright © 2011 Center for Communications, Health and the Environment (CECHE)
Dr. Sushma Palmer, Program Director
Valeska Stupak, Editor & Design Consultant
Shiraz Mahyera, Systems Manager
Daniel Hollingsworth, Website Consultant