Dietary guidelines: what are they and why do they matter?

The 2015 Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee releases report.

MyPlate, or perhaps commonly known as the “new food guide pyramid,” are examples of how the guidelines influence USDA nutrition icons.

MyPlate, or perhaps commonly known as the “new food guide pyramid,” are examples of how the guidelines influence USDA nutrition icons.

You may have seen recent reports on your evening news about changes to health recommendations specific to sugar, cholesterol and caffeine. These recommendations are among several contained in a lengthy report submitted by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Findings developed by this expert panel impact the diets of millions of Americans and directly impact federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – also known as food stamps), school meal programs and the Women, Infant Children (WIC) program.

What are the Dietary Guidelines?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans serve as the basis for all Federal food and nutrition programs, nutrition standards and nutrition education for the general public. According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the guidelines were first published in 1980. Beginning in 1990, Congress mandated that HHS and U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) release a new edition at least every five years. The Dietary Guidelines contain the latest, science-based nutrition recommendations designed to prevent and reduce diet-related chronic diseases, while promoting good health and healthy weight among Americans age 2 and older. In other words, the guidelines provide the science for developing healthy meal patterns.

Nutrition and health professionals, educators and policy makers are the primary users of the evidence-based report. Findings from the report are then condensed into consumer-friendly educational messages. MyPlate, or perhaps commonly known as the “new food guide pyramid,” are examples of how the guidelines influence USDA nutrition icons.

What steps are involved in developing the guidelines?

Nationally recognized experts in the field of nutrition, medicine and public health are appointed to serve on the independent committee. The committee is charged with reviewing and analyzing current scientific literature. Public meetings were held from June 2013 through December 2014. Meeting agendas, materials and presentations from each of the seven meetings can be found through the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. The report released in February is the first of two guideline development phases. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to provide feedback through a public comment period. Comments will be accepted now until May 8, 2015. Interested in taking a look and weighing in? Details on how to provide public comment are found through the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Visit the Michigan State University Extension website for information on health, nutrition and chronic disease management and prevention.

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