Fat Free Chocolate Milk School lunch.jpg School Nutrition Association
A student in Brandon Valley School District, South Dakota, receives a healthy school lunch. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has offered flexibility which allows for low-fat flavored milk options rather than fat free only.

Final report for dietary guidelines issued

USDA and HHS will co-develop 2020-25 dietary guidelines from scientific recommendations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture posted the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) final scientific report, an objective review of the latest science available on specific nutrition topics. The report’s evidence-based findings will inform USDA and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services as they co-develop the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which will provide recommendations on what to eat and drink to promote health and prevent chronic disease.

The dietary guidelines, issued once every five years, have a far-reaching influence. Prescribed by most doctors and dieticians as well as driving the many programs in USDA’s feeding assistance division, including the National School Lunch Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infant & Children program, the guidelines are arguably the most powerful lever on America’s ideas about healthy eating.

“Science-based dietary guidance is critical to ensuring a healthy future for America,” USDA food, nutrition and consumer services deputy undersecretary Brandon Lipps said. “USDA greatly appreciates the high-quality work done by this committee comprised of our nation’s leading scientists and dietary experts. We look forward to thoroughly reviewing the report and leveraging their scientific advice as we partner with HHS to develop the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

The report suggests reducing saturated fat intake; the dietary pattern should replace sources of saturated fat with sources of polyunsaturated fats by substituting certain animal-source foods, especially processed meats and certain high-fat dairy products, with sources of polyunsaturated fats, such as seafood, seeds, nuts, legumes and certain vegetable oils. “In addition, if meat and dairy foods are included in the dietary pattern, choosing lean cuts and lower-fat dairy options is preferred,” the report stated.

The beef community has made it a priority to protect the scientific credibility of dietary guidelines and promote accurate information about the nutritional advantages of beef as part of a balanced diet. The National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA), in its roles as both a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program and as a member-driven policy association, submitted 21 sets of written comments, provided oral comments and attended public meetings to ensure that beef’s role in a healthy diet is recognized.

NCBA chief executive officer Collin Woodall noted that the recommendations shared in the report mirror many of the recommendations related to red meat that were included in the 2015-20 dietary guidelines. In fact, the amount of meat recommended for healthy diets in the current report is the same as the 2015 guidelines. He also pointed to current DGAC report findings that suggest that many Americans would benefit from getting more nutrients like protein, iron and choline, which are readily available in beef.

“Today, 20 leading dietitians, physicians and public health experts that comprise the federal DGAC confirmed dairy products should continue to maintain a central, important role in federal nutrition recommendations for people beginning at a very early age and that most Americans should consume three servings of dairy per day,” the International Dairy Foods Assn. (IDFA) said in a statement. “The committee, which evaluates the latest findings and overall bodies of evidence in nutrition science, found strong evidence pointing to positive health outcomes from dairy foods. In fact, the committee considers a diet including low-fat and fat-free dairy, legumes, whole grains, fruits and vegetables the ideal, healthy dietary pattern for all ages.”

The experts also, for the first time, provided new clarity for families with children from birth to 24 months by recommending small amounts of some foods, such as dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and nut, seed and whole-grain products, beginning at 6-12 months and continuing thereafter. For toddlers, dairy foods are particularly important for the vitamins and nutrients they provide. “This recommendation could not be clearer, demonstrating what the American Academy of Pediatrics has stressed for years: that dairy plays a critical role in the diet of children to bolster long-term health,” IDFA said.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) expressed concern that the committee failed to recognize newer, broader science showing the benefits of dairy foods at all fat levels. “We repeatedly called on the committee to take a fresh look at multiple studies that show beneficial or neutral effects of dairy on chronic disease risk at all fat levels,” NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern said. “Unfortunately, the DGAC report does not reflect this newer science.”

The DGAC’s final scientific advisory report, submitted to the secretaries of agriculture and health and human services and released today, notes that Americans overall need more dairy in their diets, with 88% of them falling short of recommendations. That figure includes 79% of children 9-13 years old who rely heavily on the school lunch program to meet nutritional needs. The report also highlights dairy’s unique place as a provider of key nutrients that otherwise would be under-consumed in American diets.

The Nutrition Coalition, a nonprofit group that aims to bring rigorous science to nutrition policy, urged the agencies overseeing the process to make important changes ahead of the release of the guidelines in order to redress the significant problems with the expert report. The main concerns have to do with a lack of any transparent, verified methodology used in reviewing the science and the exclusion of large bodies of scientific literature, including all the clinical trials on weight loss and the last decade of new science on saturated fats.

Nutrition Coalition science journalist and executive director Nina Teicholz said, "The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine made specific recommendations about how to improve the rigor and transparency of the guidelines process so that this policy could be ‘trustworthy’ and ‘reliable.’ Unfortunately, these recommendations have been ignored. Without critical reforms, this policy is on track to do virtually nothing to reverse the epidemics of disease that are causing enormous suffering and the loss of 1.8 million lives per year."

While the DGAC report is influential in the development of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, USDA and HHS are now tasked with reviewing the DGAC recommendations before finalizing the 2020 guidelines. The public comment period for the report is open now until Aug. 13, 2020.

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