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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) are cornerstones in guiding consumers to make more healthful food choices. Since 1980 the dietary guidelines have been markedly consistent in their recommendations on the components of a healthful diet, yet dietary patterns of the American consumer remain far from the recommendations.
With each release of the dietary guidelines, the gap between the dietary recommendations and consumer food choices widens. In the United States, per capita annual fruit and vegetable consumption declined 7% (2009–2014), and fewer than 15% of American adults eat enough fruits or vegetables, despite the consistent recommendations. Simply issuing and disseminating dietary recommendations does not guarantee behavior change. More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and youth are overweight or obese, rates that have persisted for the past two decades.
Food scientists are tasked with making modifications to the food supply in response to dietary guidelines recommendations, while registered dietitian nutritionists are tasked with translating the guidelines into positive dietary changes for consumers. The Food and Nutrition Science Solutions Joint Task Force is a unique collaboration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the International Food Information Council. The vision and mission of the task force is to raise awareness of the interface of food science and nutrition and promote communication between food and nutrition professionals to improve public health through food-based solutions.
A series of expert roundtables, convened after the release of the 2010 DGA Committee Report, identified several guiding principles and actionable priorities necessary for effective implementation of the dietary guidelines. Guiding principles include building trust and collaboration among major stakeholders, prioritizing and setting realistic objectives that affect public health, actively engaging all relevant sectors, and recognizing that bringing about changes in the food supply will require patience.
Actionable priorities involve developing feasible, healthful food formulations via product innovation and reformulation while ensuring that these options are affordable, creating impactful, targeted communication strategies to educate consumers about food production technologies, and emphasizing practical strategies while keeping the messaging simple.
After identifying the release of the 2015–2020 DGA as an opportunity to appraise the progress made thus far against the 2010 consensus findings, the task force contacted participants in the 2010 rountable for their opinions on progress made in developing strategic priorities and realistic objectives that affect public health. “In part, this has come from recognizing that collaborative efforts between a broad public/private coalition of different groups gets us a lot farther than authorities simply announcing what the public should do and expecting people will fall in line,” shares Johanna Dwyer, professor, Tufts University School of Medicine and the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center.
“Public/private partnership to reduce calories in food products has been successful, although more remains to be done,” says Dwyer. Examples she cites include the increased availability and consumption of low- and no-calorie beverages, reduction of sodium in many food products, calcium fortification of juices, and the increased availability of whole grain and high-fiber options. She notes that such changes can be positive for consumers’ health when coupled with successful consumer education. “All of these changes take time,” Dwyer emphasizes.
Guy H. Johnson noted that the application of food science has enabled the development of many nutritionally improved foods (i.e., those with less added sugars, sodium, and/or trans fats) as well as increased amounts of beneficial components (i.e., more whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids) despite pressure from consumers and advocacy groups to simplify formulations and avoid the use of artificial ingredients.
Food and its nutritional impact on health remains a complex issue. Roundtable participants offer the following recommendations for building upon the dietary guidelines to bring about positive changes in public health.
• Promote healthful lifestyle changes. Success will require local, collaborative actions where members of the food, nutrition, culinary, agriculture, and public health disciplines work together on specific goals to bring the dietary guidelines to their members and communities.
• “Test drive” the 2015–2020 DGA in real-life situations for cost, convenience, and consumer acceptability, and refine them if necessary.
• Focus on simple messages that are short, actionable, and individualized.
• Increase awareness that taste and acceptability are important in empowering consumers to change their dietary patterns.
This article provides excerpts of the commentary published in the October 2016 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is submitted on behalf of the Food and Nutrition Science Solutions Joint Task Force.
Barbara J. Ivens, MS, RDN, is principal, Nutrition Information Exchange ([email protected]).
Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RDN, is president, MSE & Associates ([email protected]).
Farida Mohamedshah, MS, is director, Food, Health and Nutrition, IFT ([email protected]).