The Dietary Guidelines for Americans were first published in 1980 to provide consumers with science-based nutrition recommendations for a healthy diet and prevention of diet-related diseases. Revised every 5 years, the Guidelines serve as a basis for all Federal nutrition policy and education activities.
Current dietary guidance appears to be aspirational—rather than achievable—to many consumers, based on various responses to an IFIC 2010 Food and Health Survey. Research shows that consumers do not typically follow the Dietary Guidelines, and thus the rates of overweight and obesity, and the chronic diseases associated with these weight conditions have increased since 1980. For the first time, the 2010 Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes the serious overweight and obesity issues in the U.S., and serves as a call to action to address them.
In response to the DGAC Report’s call for a multi-sectoral effort to better implement the Dietary Guidelines, IFT along with the American Dietetic Assoc., International Food Information Council (IFIC), and International Life Sciences Institute North America convened in October 2010 two roundtables of food scientists and dietitians/nutrition communicators in Chicago, Ill. and Washington, D.C. These audiences were targeted because food scientists innovate and reformulate food products that most Americans consume, and dietitians counsel clients and communicate dietary guidance to the public.
Roundtables were held to bring these key sectors together to interact and brainstorm solutions to integrate and translate the science behind the Dietary Guidelines into the means to bring about actual behavior change. The discussion focused on the DGAC Report’s chapter urging translation and integration of the nutrition evidence, which recommends the following approaches:
• Reduce the incidence and prevalence of overweight and obesity in the U.S. population by reducing overall caloric intake;
• Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds; and
• Reduce intake of foods containing added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium.
Each daylong roundtable began with an overview of the Guidelines, with special attention to the gaps and successes of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and food supply changes since 2005.
Roundtable participants agreed with the DGAC that there is a critical need for a coordinated, multi-sectoral strategic plan to achieve effective implementation of the Dietary Guidelines. Roundtable participants agreed that the best available evidence should be the basis for action, while recognizing that consumers cannot be fitted with a one-size-fits-all dietary strategy.
Roundtable participants noted that improved communication from all stakeholders is critical for improved implementation. When communicating strategies for dietary change, highly targeted messages that are geographically and socioculturally targeted, and that do not link physical activity and dietary changes, were recommended. Personalized guidance based on the needs of specific subpopulations was preferred. Participants also observed that nutrition education at the earliest ages could yield profound results, especially when linked with a healthy food and activity environment for children. New avenues to reach children such as social media were explored, as well as targeting parents of young children with consistent, positive dietary messages.
Messaging related to dietary guidance must be practical since consumers’ knowledge of good dietary practices is not always reflected through current actions via food purchases and dietary choices. Stakeholders must be patient with change, accepting intermediate successes and incremental gains, rather than an all-or-nothing view that the Guidelines currently seem to take. Over the years, food scientists have reformulated many products to better align with the Dietary Guidelines, and reformulation/innovation is constant. Small successes coupled with open, transparent manufacturing processes will help build trust among stakeholders.
An overarching conclusion from roundtable participants was that collaboration between all players is important to achieve the dietary changes necessary to meet public health goals. But before collaboration can occur, mutual trust and understanding of the complementary roles and responsibilities of food scientists and dietitians is important.
For details on the roundtables, please access the article “Food Science Challenge: Translating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to Bring about Real Behavior Change,” published in the January/February issue of Journal of Food Science, at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1750-3841.
Sarah D. Ohlhorst, is Research Scientist, IFT, 1025 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 503, Washington, DC 20036