On January 7, health professionals and policymakers heralded the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), updated to reflect current nutrition science. The DGAs provide evidence-based healthy eating principles for the public to reduce the risk of chronic disease and maintain a healthy weight. The document is published jointly by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) every five years, and this newest edition will serve as a foundation for nutrition policy and programming through 2020.
According to a word content analysis conducted by FoodMinds, one of the most marked evolutions in the DGAs is the emphasis on overall healthy dietary patterns across the life span. To me, this holistic approach to healthy eating represents a shift in how we’re talking about nutrition and health. Previous guidelines have notoriously put individual nutrients—especially fat and sugar—center stage. While there is still emphasis on certain nutrients, this time around, the DGAs urge Americans to make small shifts or swaps in their food choices to achieve an overall healthier eating pattern and provide specific, practical examples to do so. I echo USDA and DHHS in saying this approach has the potential to make meeting the guidelines more attainable than ever before.
The DGAs have grown to be significantly more robust over the past 40 years. The first edition of the DGAs articulated dietary recommendations for Americans in a mere 3,100 words. They called for the public to consume a variety of foods to provide essential nutrients while maintaining ideal body weight. They also stressed moderation of certain nutrients including fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium—all suspected at the time to be risk factors in certain chronic diseases. Sound familiar? All of these recommendations still remain in the document today in some capacity.
That said, the new DGAs call for all sectors of society to rally together and “create a new paradigm” in which healthful choices are “easy, accessible, affordable, and normative.” The food industry has an opportunity to play a key role in helping Americans achieve healthier eating patterns through a variety of initiatives such as product innovation or renovation, portion guidance education on- or off-pack, and support of programs that promote healthy eating and exercise. Bottom line: the food industry must innovate to make the healthy choice the easy choice for the American public. In my view, this the most direct route to making healthy dietary patterns a reality.