2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Announced

(Originally published Jan. 15, 2005 – FreeMarketNews.com)

new USDA food pyramid logo

SPECIAL TO FREE-MARKET NEWS NETWORK, Jan. 15, 2005 — The U.S. government has just released the sixth edition of its nutrition guidelines for Americans. Updated every five years, this current edition is somewhat different than those that came before in that it places a stronger emphasis on common sense, personal responsibility and physical exercise as a means of ending the growing obesity rate of American consumers.

In a press conference held January 12th to announce the release, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thomson said, “We can live by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and be healthier for it because the guidelines are a solid combination of research science and, more importantly, common sense.”

In extolling the benefits of this newest version, Thompson went on to explain that, “The process that was used to develop these guidelines was more rigorous, more science-based, and more transparent than ever before.”

The report identifies 41 key recommendations; 23 of these are for the general public while the other 18 are for special populations such as children, women who may become pregnant, or Americans who are over the age of 50.

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

Past directives for promoting nutritionally strong whole foods and grains over more processed, high-fat, high-sugar foods are carried over in the current report with only minor changes to specific recommendations.

Most visible are the lowering of recommended sodium intake from 2400mg per day to 2300mg per day, the recommendation of beneficial fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils, and new language in the document which gives specific recommendations in terms of “cups” and “ounces” for food groups as opposed to the previously vague suggestion of “portions”.

In general, the guidelines encourage people to consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups while choosing foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol – not so unlike past editions of the guidelines.

No specific recommendations were given for sugar or trans-fat intake, but in the press conference Thompson and others who took the podium cited that research was ongoing in these areas and that more specific guidelines would be forthcoming. It was also mentioned that the USDA Food Pyramid that most Americans are familiar with – and which many critics say is outdated – is likely either to be dramatically changed or ousted altogether in favor of something less confusing and more specific.

GROWING OBESITY RATES

Overshadowing any recommendations the government makes on nutritional guidelines is the ever-increasing American obesity rate. Despite five previous editions of these guidelines, various statistics show that upwards of 60% or more of the American population is clinically overweight or obese.

Tommy Thompson agrees with these findings, affirming that, “Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.”

Addressing these concerns, Thompson pointed to lack of exercise as key to this epidemic. “More than 50 percent of us Americans do not get the recommended amount of physical activity,” he said. Continuing, he described the report’s exercise recommendations as “…30 minutes a day for adults and 60 minutes a day for children. And if you want to reduce weight, you should put in 60 to 90 minutes at least five times a week.”

This new language is a shift from suggesting guidelines as a cure-all to placing ultimate responsibility on the individual in taking a more active role in their health through better eating and exercising.

In addressing this issue, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman noted that, “I do believe that people are looking more and more at what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle. I think people have gotten the message that people need to take personal responsibility for what they do.”

GOOD, BUT NOT WITHOUT CRITICISM

Critics of the new guidelines say it’s a step in the right direction, but that significant areas such as sugar and trans-fats have no specific recommendations, leading many to question underlying reasons why.

During the press conference announcing the guidelines, several reporters raised questions regarding the most visible lapses in recommendations on sugar.

One reporter in particular raised the question of involvement by food industry lobbyists and what role they may have played in the guidelines by asking, “Is this truly scientifically based, or were there compromises made so that industry wasn’t concerned about what you came out with?”

In addressing the question, Tommy Thompson answered simply, “It’s scientifically based.” Though he did admit that, “every report that comes through the federal government has compromises put in.”

Thompson went on to explain and summarize the guidelines in this way:

“I think when you look at it, you know, no matter how you want to point at it, how you want to criticize it, how you want to compliment it — the truth of the matter is, it’s up to the individual. You’re going to have to watch what you eat, and you’re going to have to exercise. That’s what this report says.”

The full document of Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, as well as past editions of the guidelines, can be found at: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines

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