Dietary reports offer good news on public health

April 1, 2015

New dietary guidelines from 2 federal agencies call for a paradigm shift in healthcare and public health toward prevention and integration with food systems, including incentivizing nutrition professionals, healthcare providers, and others in counseling patients for healthy lifestyles.

New dietary guidelines from 2 federal agencies call for a paradigm shift in healthcare and public health toward prevention and integration with food systems, including incentivizing nutrition professionals, healthcare providers, and others in counseling patients for healthy lifestyles.

The guidelines, which apply to everyone aged older than 2 years, recommend integrating preventive lifestyle screening, referral, and interventions and services for weight management and chronic disease risk into routine practice guidelines and quality assurance standards, and requiring insurers to encourage healthcare and businesses to support healthy lifestyles.

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Among the recommendations for individuals and households, the report calls for engaging children in at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity a day and for limiting their screen time to 2 hours.

In terms of food environments, as with prior recommendations, the report recommends limiting marketing of foods and beverages high in added sugar and sodium to anyone, but particularly to children and adolescents. Water should be promoted as a preferred beverage choice by making it accessible in childcare facilities, schools, and settings. The report also calls for making “smart snacks” consistent with the dietary guidelines across settings including schools, childcare settings, parks, sport leagues, after-school programs, and other locations.

Importantly, the panel recommends that children and adolescents should not consume caffeine from beverages and supplements, and families should monitor the intake.

NEXT: Is there any good news?

 

Good news

Much of the new report confirmed previous conclusions including that the body of evidence “identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, [lowfat or nonfat] dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”

Although there have been few improvements in Americans’ diet in recent decades, there is evidence it’s possible to make changes, the committee said. For example, research on childcare settings and schools indicate that changes can improve food choices and weight outcomes. The panel said that nutrition educational initiatives, parent engagement, food labeling, nutrition standards, and behavior intervention services have potential when combined with policy changes.

Read more: Sodium intake on the rise in kids

Among specific findings, the panel pointed out:

·      Vegetable consumption in children is low: 1% of boys aged 9 to 13 years and less than 1% of girls aged 14 to 18 years eat the recommended 2 to 2.5 cups a day.

·      Vitamin D intake is below the estimated average requirement for all age and sex groups.

·      Preadolescent and adolescent females are concerning in terms of getting enough calcium.

·      Iron is underconsumed by adolescent and premenopausal females, including pregnant women.

More good news: For children aged 2 to 5 years, intakes of potassium, fiber, and vitamin D are close to the same across income groups. The committee said it may be that lower income children are getting “important benefits from federal nutrition assistance programs.”

The report also reiterated eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages in schools and making sure that “competitive foods” meet nutrition standards. Competitive foods are those served a la carte in the lunchroom or available in vending machines because they compete with foods served through the National Food Program.

The dietary guidelines have been published by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services every 5 years for 35 years. A 15-member committee worked on the current report for 2 years and used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

For more information and guidance on making comments on the report through May 8, 2015, go to www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/.

Ms Foxhall is a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area. She has nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that might have an interest in any part of this article.