In our quest to achieve a nutritious, safe food supply, we have forgotten the other side of the equation for an appropriate energy balance. The 2000 version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans attempts to correct that by emphasizing maintaining a healthy weight and promoting daily physical activity as the first two guidelines.
Why do “dietary” guidelines include other lifestyle choices? Why do food scientists and nutritionists need to carry the banner for fitness? Food scientists provide food and information about food for the nation. Nutritionists also play an important role. There are an insufficient number of exercise physiologists and fitness experts to conquer obesity alone, and nutritionists outnumber exercise physiologists 10 to 1. Another group of professionals who need to be enlisted as partners are in foodservice. With Americans eating more than half their calories provided by the foodservice industry, this group can accomplish a great deal by controlling portion sizes and restricting unlimited free refills.
More than half of U.S. adults are overweight (body mass index, BMI ≥ 25), one-quarter are obese (BMI ≥ 30), and 11% of children and adolescents are overweight. Approximately 280,000 deaths are attributable to obesity annually. Only 22% of U.S. adults exercise the recommended amount of five times per week for at least 30 minutes. The new guidelines eliminate the previous recommendation to “Eat a variety of foods,” thinking that Americans mistook that to mean eat plenty of everything. A balanced diet has historically been a hallmark of good eating practices. We do not have to abandon this good advice if we match energy expenditure to energy intake.
In the 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there are ten guidelines organized as the ABC’s for good health. “A” is to aim for fitness, “B” is to build a healthy base, and “C” is to choose sensibly. This is a catchy format which may be easily remembered. However, ten guidelines are too many for the public to remember and use to monitor their daily food choices. If the message is clear to balance energy intake with expenditure to maintain a healthy weight, it is unnecessary to single out an ingredient. Too many specific guidelines allow the main message to get derailed. Past advice to limit fats and sugars certainly has not curbed the trend in weight gain. If it were up to me, I might stop with the A’s and B’s for good health.
The Dietary Guidelines were released on Memorial Day weekend, preceding a national dialogue at the National Nutrition Summit. Approximately 1,800 professionals met in Washington, D.C., to discuss the nutrition agenda for the nation. Many ideas were presented to help Americans maintain an appropriate energy balance. Parents were advised to encourage children to play after school first and do homework later. Everyone was encouraged to explore many means to increase physical activity and not to think exclusively in terms of the occasional trip to the gym. Whole communities were called to action to develop plans to encourage physical activity in a safe environment.
Under “Build a healthy base,” the first guideline is to “Let the Pyramid guide your food choices.” It is followed by two guidelines promoting consumption of grains and fruits and vegetables. The first guideline would have been sufficient. Emphasizing two food groups is not only redundant, but begs the question, “Are Americans getting enough of the other two food groups, i.e., dairy and meat?” Calcium intakes of Americans are so far below the recommended Dietary Reference Intakes that the answer is clearly that Americans are not consuming enough dairy products and other calcium-rich foods.
An important new guideline is “Keep food safe to eat.” IFT has been a major player in keeping food safe for Americans for some time now. IFT will make even larger contributions in the future.
2000 Dietary Guidelines
Aim for Fitness . . .
• Aim for a healthy weight.
• Be physically active each day.
Build a Healthy Base . . .
• Let the Pyramid guide your food choices.
• Choose a variety of grains daily, especially
• Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
• Keep food safe to eat.
Choose Sensibly . . .
• Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat.
• Choose beverages and foods to moderate your
• Choose and prepare foods with less salt.
• If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
by Connie M. Weaver, a Fellow of IFT, is Distinguished Professor of Foods and Nutrition, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.