Less Salt, More Fruit, Veggies: New Dietary Guidelines From USDA and HHS

By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD

(Join us to discuss the guidelines with special guest @FoodInsight: #FoodChat, Tuesday evening on Twitter from 8-10 EST.)

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, whole grains, 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 all 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 update 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?

Comments

  1. If you asked on the street American about food guidelines, I think they might recall the food pyramid but not much else. And from the food pyramid, they might only recall generalizations, like eat more vegetables and fruits.

    Contrast this to: the food industry continues to serve up 1,000 calorie lunches, when most people only need ~2,200 calories a day. While there are great efforts by restaurants to publish their menu and nutrition information, many continue to create items like Carl’s super-sized foot-long cheeseburger or Burger King’s 2,500 calorie Pizza Burger. And, to really confuse people, the White House’s State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao did not follow the ideals set forth in the Dietary Guidelines; this multi- course dinner was estimated to be at least 3,000 calories.

    So the question is: Are Americans serious about changing their behavior? Are food service and consumer goods companies willing to get behind these guidelines? And are agricultural producers willing to support those same guidelines? There is an impact to agriculture if many Americans take to heart the dietary guidelines. People switching to drinking water, reducing by half their meat intake, or eating smaller portions all imply many agricultural producers would produce less (However, there is an upside to those that grow fruits and vegetables ;).

    I don’t expect an immediate shift in American’s food habits. However, there is an opportunity to utilize the dietary guidelines as a distinctive marketing opportunity. Companies that can pivot on the issues and concerns around food, health, and agriculture will create usable, fun, & healthy products/services that will be ahead of the competition.

  2. My takeaway: the consumer messages were grossly over-simplified and uninspiring. You’re right – better translation – would certainly help. The message needs a bit more salt (or sugar) to catch the eye of the general public. (Wink, wink!) I intend to keep up with your blog and look forward to more good information. Thanks!