Category Archives: Government Action

2010 Dietary Guidelines: A Draft Report & Your Chance to Comment

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee draft report. Everyone in the U.S. (including YOU!) has an opportunity to comment on the report until July 15. This report will be used to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which will reign as the overarching U.S. gov’t’s nutrition recommendations until 2015.

The report is long and contains a lot of details. Some of the notable conclusions/recommendations include:

  • Audience: Previous versions have focused recommendations on a healthy population. Not this time. Since the majority of Americans are overweight or obese, these recommendations have been tailored to folks who need to drop some pounds. Of course, the recommendation is to do so smartly, by decreasing/managing calorie intake and moving more.
  • Sodium: Dropping daily intakes down to 1,500 mg/day (from the last version’s recommended 2,300mg). This is pretty drastic, but with the help of the recently-released IOM report on sodium, there will likely be gradual decreases in sodium content in the overall food environment of foods over time. The majority of sodium in the diet is in processed foods and restaurant foods. Essentially, the U.S. palate will need to change so people don’t go running for the salt shaker to make these sodium-reduced foods “taste right.”
  • Plant-Based and Whole Foods-Based: The report recommends eating a plant-based diet that includes low-fat and fat-free dairy but is limited to moderate amounts of  meat, poultry and eggs. It also puts an emphasis on eating whole foods that are dense in nutrients and that are minimally processed.
  • Reducing Added Sugars, Solid Fat, Refined Grains and Sodium: In addition to the sodium note above (a big change for the population!), there is a large push to limit added sugars, solid (saturated/trans) fats and grains that are highly refined plus low in nutrients and/or high in added sugar. Limiting these components is more of a focus than discretionary calories (extra calories left over you could have fun with if you got what you needed first), which were an emphasis in the last iteration.
  • Focus on Breakfast: The importance of breaking the fast is a sub-focus of the report, as the authors note the important links between eating breakfast and getting more nutrients and the lower risk for obesity, especially in kids.
  • Fats: Saturated fat recommendations have been dropped to 7% of total calories from 10% in the last iteration of the report. Further, they’ve singled out “cholesterol-lowering fatty acids,” which include both saturated and artificially-created trans fats, and give the target of a 5-7% of calories total.
  • Sustainability: The report emphasizes this topic for the first time, underscoring the importance of a sustainable food supply.
  • Nutrients of Concern: The nutrients that people aren’t getting enough of that the report focuses on are vitamin D, calcium, potassium and fiber. It emphasizes ways to get more of these nutrients.

An extra tidbit: The guidelines are considered to be released jointly by USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This round, USDA has taken the lead on development. Next round, DHHS will.

One Year Plus ‘Til National Calorie Labeling Takes Effect

As you may have heard, the health care reform enacted earlier this year touched on more than what many think of plain ‘ol healthcare. Included in that “other” category was menu labeling in chain restaurants and vending machines.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has one year to formulate national menu labeling regulations. These regulations require that all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations AND operators of 20 or more vending machines provide calorie counts for each item. However, it’s not clear when the federal law will actually be enforced.

This will no doubt make it easier than fitting the patchwork standards that had begun to pop up in cities and states, which was making it a bit confusing, costly and time consuming for chains to comply. It also will help with the confusing variety for folks who were looking for that information to help make better choices. Would this city/state have the information available? Would it not? 

It’s cool to know that eventually, wherever in the U.S. we are, we’ll be able to count on standard calorie info in chains. And the vending machine piece will be a small sliver of a boost that will help people make more informed choices wherever they are – and it’ll also contribute to the school-focused arm of the nationwide Let’s Move! campaign aimed at tackling childhood obesity within a generation. Until then, blissful ignorance will continue!

White House Task Force Delivers Report on Fighting Child Obesity

Yesterday, Michelle Obama and Cabinet officials announced the release of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity report. The report includes 70 recommendations and a governmental nudge that, if action isn’t taken in various areas to make the recommendations a reality, the gov’t will step in.

The Task Force aims to drop child obesity rates down to 5% (or lower) by 2030. With current rates fluxing around 20%, that’s quite a drop.

The five broad guidelines of the report are:

  1. Reduce the risk of obesity early in childrens’ lives, with good prenatal care for their mothers, promotion of breastfeeding, limits on “screen time”, and quality child care settings with nutritious food and many opportunities for young children to be physically active.
  2. Empower parents and caregivers my making nutrition information more useful, improving food marketing and labeling practices and strengthening the health care provider’s role in patient education and healthcare services.
  3. Provide healthy food in schools, through improvements in federally-supported school lunches and breakfasts, improving the nutritional quality of other foods sold in schools and improving nutrition education and the overall school environment to match these healthier food offerings. 
  4. Ensure access to healthy, affordable food by eliminating “food deserts” in urban and rural America, lowering prices of healthier foods, providing a broader range of healthy foods in the marketplace and giving all access to resources for consumers to make healthful choices (via education, nutrition assistance programs, etc.)
  5. Increase physical activity levels in children through quality physical education, recess, and other opportunities in and after school, modifying the “built environment” that make it easier and safer for children to walk or bike in their communities and improving access to safe parks, playgrounds, and indoor and outdoor recreational facilities.

This is the most far-reaching initiative of its kind in U.S. government, with a larger number of people and groups on the bandwagon than ever before. We think there’s definitely a lot of promise with this initiative and can’t wait to see how it gets started across various sectors of the U.S.

Food Insecurity Goes Up, Free Dinners Become Popular

As reported by the Associated Press, the number of food insecure households (households that don’t always have enough nutritious food available) has risen drastically from 36 million in 2007 to 49 million in 2008, according to the Economic Research Service. These are the latest numbers, but it makes one wonder what 2009 and the beginning of 2010 would show.

Currently, 13 states provide an option for free after-school supper programs in at-risk communities where at least 50% of the population is below the poverty level. Currently, 49,000 kids in the U.S. take advantage of after-school meals. These programs appear to be increasing in popularity, especially as families are losing their jobs and homes.

Kids who get enough food to eat are able to think more clearly, make better decisions and develop well.  Filling kids (but not stuffing them!) with nutrious meals can help kids grow and learn their best. Despite whatever hiccups do exist with federal nutrition programs, the fact that these kids are getting to eat dinner when they otherwise might not be able to is definitely a huge help.

Food Labeling: Your Voice Can Be Heard

Everyone in the nutrition arena is talking about it. TIME just put an article out about it.

If you’d like to shape how food labels, front-of-package labeling and shelf tags present and/or rate nutrition information for foods and beverages, now’s the time to comment. Members of the public have until July 28 to submit comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about point-of-purchase food information – especially if you have insights on any of the following concepts:

  • Data/info on the extent to which consumers notice front-of-pack labeling/shelf tags in retail stores (this doesn’t require an advanced degree, luckily!)
  • Research comparing the effectiveness of different methods of this labeling
  • Graphic design/marketing/advertising data that can guide the development of better point-of-purchase nutrition info
  • The extent to which point-of-purchase nutrition information may affect decisions by food manufacturers to reformulate products.

FDA wants its front-of-pack nutrition labeling effort is to “maximize the number of consumers who readily notice, understand and use point-of-purchase information to make more nutritious choices for themselves and their families.” Submit comments to http://www.regulations.gov.

FDA has commissioned the Institute of Medicine to provide a recommendation on front-of-pack labeling by the end of the year; this recommendation will very likely have a strong impact on front-of-pack labeling in the U.S. for many years to come.

All About Sodium

Although the amount of sodium in foods – especially processed foods, which contain most sodium in the food supply – and its links to heart disease and stroke risk has been under scrutiny lately, this has been a week of red carpet attention for the substance.

In 2008, Congress commissioned the The Institute of Medicine (IOM) to recommend ways to get the sodium intakes in the U.S. down 30%  to levels recommended by the 2005 Dietary Guidelines (2,300mg/day vs. the 3,400mg/day consumed on average). Yesterday, the IOM released a report that concluded reducing sodium content in food is extremely important and requires new government standards by the FDA (in concert with other agencies) for the accept­able/safe level of sodium intakes, with the cooperation of food manufacturers and restaurants. IOM noted that population-wide decreases in sodium intake could prevent 100,000 deaths a year in the U.S.

They noted that current levels of sodium in the food supply are “too high to be safe.” They recommend a gradual reduction of sodium in the food supply, so that the change is less noticed by most folks and allows their taste sensations to adjust slowly.

Some speculate that the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, due at the end of the year, may call for even lower sodium intakes. Since sodium is everywhere, especially in processed and restaurant foods, IOM has a great point that cutting sodium population-wide will really require a change in Americans’ eating habits and palates.

Liverpool Interested in Nixing Word Obesity

According to an article in the Telegraph, Liverpool, UK is considering banning the terms “obese” and “obesity” when addressing children. This would apply to all public health strategies aimed at helping kids get to/maintain a healthy weight. They recommend replacing these terms with “unhealthy weight” so as to not stigmatize or offend children in this category.

It’s a tough call. We definitely see benefits in promoting healthy lifestyles instead of focusing on the negative – and offering tools and solutions for how to up the ante of a family’s lifestyle to keep kids in the “healthy weight” zone. But is “unhealthy weight” any better than “obese,” really?

Focusing on healthy lifestyles instead of the negative (not being at an ideal weight), no matter what types of terms are used, is definitely the way to go.