On February 23, 2015, the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) released the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). The Secretaries of HHS and USDA use the report’s recommendations in developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).
The DGA form the basis for federal food and nutrition programs and initiatives, including the School Lunch Program and the USDA’s MyPlate icon. Typically, the Secretaries of HHS and USDA have heeded the DGAC’s recommendations, making very few substantive changes when finalizing the DGA.
Key Takeaways From the 2015 Recommendations
- More Plants, Less Meat, Greater Sustainability: The DGAC recommended a diet higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or no-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts, while lower in red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains. The committee found that a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is associated with less environmental impact. The DGAC noted that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and energy use, and encouraged consumers to consider a sustainable diet to ensure access for current and future generations.
- Sodium, Sugar and Saturated Fat: Generally, the DGAC suggested a diet low in saturated fat and added sugars. Specifically, they suggested goals of less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat per day, and a maximum of 10 percent of total calories from added sugars per day. The DGAC proposed a daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 mg/day, consistent with the 2010 DGA. The committee went on to recommend that the food industry continue reformulating products and expand efforts to reduce the sodium content of foods. The DGAC also proposed taxation on higher sugar- and sodium-containing foods to encourage consumers to reduce sugar and sodium consumption.
- Underconsumed and Overconsumed: The DGAC found that vitamins A, C, D and E, folate, calcium, magnesium, fiber and potassium are all underconsumed (shortfall nutrients), and that sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed. The report points out that the U.S. population has low intake of important sources of shortfall nutrients — including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy — and excess intake of refined grains and added sugars. Notably, the DGAC did not endorse the recommendation from the 2010 guidelines that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 g/day, citing new evidence that suggested cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.
- Affecting Healthy Purchasing: The DGAC recommended reducing the frequency of eating out at fast food restaurants in order to favorably affect a range of health-related outcomes. They also encouraged policymakers — specifically referencing those at the city and town level — to consider mechanisms such as taxation, bans and price incentives to promote the purchase of healthy foods and beverages.
Concerns for the Food Industry
The new recommendations differ from those in previous years, including some considered controversial. The recommendations on red meat consumption and environment and sustainability considerations are concerning to livestock industry groups. These stakeholders see these particular proposals as an overreach beyond the charge of the DGAC, and are concerned they could negatively impact conventional agriculture and meat production. Other stakeholder groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists have defended these recommendations, however, saying that the DGAC was simply following through on recommendations from the 2010 committee to look at sustainability and agriculture practices. Also controversial to the food industry, particularly beverage manufacturers, is the recommendation for government entities to consider taxation — akin to the beverage tax that passed in 2014 in Berkeley, California — to encourage healthy eating behavior.
How to Weigh in on the Recommendations
The report is open for public comment through midnight EDT on April 8, 2015. Those interested can issue public comments by visiting www.DietaryGuidelines.gov and selecting “submit written comments.” There will also be a public meeting held for the public to provide oral testimony on March 24, 2015, in Bethesda, Maryland. The meeting will also be webcast. Additional information can be found here.