The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report was released on Thursday, the latest government policy statement outlining proposed recommendations for a healthy diet.
Jointly administered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Secretary of the USDA, the report, issued every five years, influences nutrition policy for everything from federal assistance programs, to school lunches and prison meals, to national food labels.
As it turns out, an analysis of DGA reports since its inception in 1980 also reveals an ongoing evolution by policy makers in their quest to encourage and promote healthy eating habits among Americans.
Case in point: For the first time in its history, the DGA now sets limits on sugar, suggesting sugar should comprise only 10 percent of daily caloric intake. On the other hand, previous recommendations on dietary cholesterol — a target of no more than 300 milligrams a day — have been scaled back; foods such as eggs and shellfish are now recognized as part of a healthy diet. The report also emphasized protein — specifically, proteins from seafood, poultry and lean meats — and suggested that Americans eat more whole fruits, vegetables and grains.
According to Bill Layden, partner and co-founder of food, nutrition, and wellness agency FoodMinds, the most significant change this year involves a shift in the DGA's overall focus, from listing the foods that American should avoid or eat more of, to an increased focus on an individual’s eating patterns.
“It’s an important differentiation. In the early days, the DGAs were mostly focused on specific nutrients. Now they’ve begun talking about not just foods, but suggesting their patterns in an overall context, and the synergy those healthy eating patterns have on an individual over the course of a day, or a week, or a lifespan,” Layden told O’Dwyer’s. “As it turns out, one size does not fit all, and this shift recognizes a need to tailor and apply an individual’s needs in order to achieve overall healthy eating patterns.”
“In my opinion, this provides a rich and fantastic blueprint for manufacturers, retailers and even software producers. The DGA document offers a great opportunity for nutrition marketers to help support consumers in adopting healthier eating patterns,” Layden said.
Also of note: the literal size of the DGA’s policy document has increased. According to FoodMinds, which conducted a word content analysis of all eight editions of the DGAs to yield insight into its evolution, the report’s word-count has increased by more than 1,500 percent since its first edition in 1980, currently clocking in at about 50,000 words, compared to the first edition’s word-count of about 3,000 words.
“First, we have to realize that when it comes down to it, the scientific basis and substantiation for arriving at those conclusions are complex, and there’s a need to explain that,” Layden said. “Second, if we understand that we live in a dynamic environment, we understand that these aren’t guidelines merely for individuals, but guidelines for society.”