Every five years the American public gets a newly tweaked directive on what we're supposed to be eating.
And every five years the American public largely ignores it.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 14 percent of adults are even coming close.
Special interest groups, however, watch the guidelines closely and are speaking out. Just last week, nearly 50 speakers from industry and the science and health communities went to Washington to provide oral comments on the proposed guidelines for 2010, which will be released at the end of the year.
The proposed recommendation to reduce salt intake dramatically drew a statement from Morton Satin, Salt Institute vice president of science and research, that "no modern society consumes so little salt."
Dr. Richard Feinman, on behalf of the Nutrition and Metabolic Society, invited members of the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to a debate on the guidelines' proposed decrease in saturated fat consumption, saying that carbohydrates eaten with saturated fats were the real problem. The Weston Price Foundation, which advocates the healthful properties of fat from pastured animals, also took issue.
A dietary supplements industry group called the Council for Responsible Nutrition objected to the proposed statement that "a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement does not offer health benefits to healthy Americans." The council said the committee's report implies "it's reasonable to allow people to live with nutrient inadequacies."
If the guidelines are largely ignored by the average American, why do health and industry groups care so much about influencing them?
"I think to a certain extent they are followed," said Weston Price Foundation President Sally Fallon, whose organization also supports the consumption of whole, rather than processed, foods. "Schools who get federal money and prisons are supposed to be following them for their menus."
Have questions about the new food guidelines? Many do. Reporter Monica Eng answers some of them at Trib Nation.
Dr. Robert Post, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, said all public comments are taken into consideration along with scientific reviews and lively debate within the committee's meetings.
He noted that last month the department debuted something called the Nutrition Evidence Library, a new online resource cataloging the latest science on nutritional matters and the ways the USDA interprets it to create policy.
But some observers still worry that the guidelines may be too influenced by industry concerns.
"I believe that by supporting low-fat products and grain products, rather than actual low-fat foods and whole grains like quinoa and teff, they are just trying to support the food industry," said Adele Hite, a University of North Carolina public health graduate student who represented the Committee for a Healthy Nation during last week's meeting.
The USDA started giving out nutritional advice more than 100 years ago with a table of food composition and dietary standards that later morphed into food shopping guides for various income levels. In 1992 the agency developed the food pyramid, an image in which horizontal bars represented food groups.
In 2005 the pyramid was given a new look (and renamed My Pyramid) in which the bars were replaced by vertical stripes that some argued made it hard to read at a glance.
"The new pyramid is not so much an information image as something to send people to the mypyramid.gov Web site," explained USDA spokesman John Webster.
"While making it, there was a concern that it was not specific enough," Webster said. "But as we added more information it started to look like a Christmas tree. Finally we said we can't continue to add more information and still make it meaningful, and so decided to put the information on the Web."
Congress mandates that a committee on the dietary guidelines convene every five years to review the latest science and state of the American diet to make adjustments, but the pyramid usually does not change as often. It will likely get another makeover in early 2011 as part of the national Let's Move campaign against childhood obesity.
Looking at the food pyramid
Every five years the American public gets a newly tweaked directive on what we're supposed to be eating. And every five years the American public largely ignores it.
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