By: Ashley Rosales, RDN
Today, people are more concerned than ever about their health and well-being. The global COVID-19 pandemic has created a sense of anxiety and brought to light the alarming disparities that exist in the U.S. healthcare system. While COVID-19 poses a greater threat to those with chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, the physical isolation and increasing unemployment rates are exacerbating rates of food insecurity. Nutrition and access to food play an important role in protecting the health of people across the lifespan, regardless of current health or nutritional status. For these reasons, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide guidance to help Americans eat a healthier diet, are especially relevant and timely.
Published every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the basis for federal nutrition programs and an important resource for health professionals. In the past year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) held a series of meetings and an open public comment period to help inform the recommendations for Americans ages 2 and older. On July 15, 2020, the committee released their official Scientific Report to the HHS and USDA, who will use the findings in the Scientific Report to create the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. Highlights from the Final Report are noted below, including noteworthy recommendations and issues that are likely to stay the same.
Food Patterns and Diet Quality
The Advisory Committee continues to recommend the three food patterns from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern, Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern and Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern. These dietary patterns are meant to provide a template for people to follow, offering flexibility to customize food choices to individual preferences, cultures and budgets. Healthy dietary patterns are defined by the quality of foods that are included and the foods that should be limited. Evidence consistently shows that dietary patterns associated with beneficial health outcomes include a higher intake of whole and minimally processed foods, such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, lean meat, seafood, nuts and unsaturated vegetable oils, as well as lower consumption of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains. The consumption of high-quality foods should be the foundation of any eating pattern.
In response to rising incidences of chronic health conditions and the prevalence of obesity among children, the Advisory Committee made a number of new recommendations in their Final report, including dietary guidance for pregnant and lactating women and the birth-to-24 month populations for the first time. Recommendations include:
Many of the conclusion statements and recommendations made by the Advisory Committee echo the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines. Noteworthy recommendations that remain the same include:
The final Scientific Report reinforces the important role dairy foods play in eating patterns across the life span, and the unique package of nutrients dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt contribute in the American diet, that would otherwise be under-consumed. In a review of dietary patterns and health outcomes in adults, the Advisory Committee concluded that consuming low-fat dairy foods as part of dietary pattern was associated with beneficial impacts on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, growth, size and body composition, bone health, colorectal cancer and lung cancer.
Despite growing scientific evidence that was submitted showing beneficial or neutral effects of dairy on chronic disease risk at all fat levels, the Advisory Committee did not recommend consumption of high-fat dairy foods. Instead, the Advisory Committee encourages more research focused on the food matrix and its relationship to saturated fat and health outcomes. This would provide additional evidence that high quality foods, like certain full-fat dairy, are distinguished as health-promoting.
The USDA and HHS will consider the Advisory Committee’s final Scientific Report, along with public and agency comments, as the Departments develop the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The public is invited to submit comments for consideration in the drafting of the final Dietary Guidelines. The new docket for public comments can be found here, and will remain open until August 13, 2020, 11:59 pm, ET. Dairy Council submitted its own public comments and encourages others to do the same.
Nutrition greatly impacts the health and well-being of people across their life span and influences many aspects of the lives of children and their families. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans serve as a catalyst to spark collaborative action, nutrition policy and educational efforts, which can increase access to healthful foods and beverages and support adoption of healthy eating patterns for all ages and in all places people live, learn, work, play and gather.
Ashley Rosales, RDN
Ashley Rosales, RDN
Ashley, Program Director of Nutrition Science, is a practicing registered dietitian nutritionist with more than a decade of experience.
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