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by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.
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Wellness in the Headlines
(Don's Report to the World)

A Wellness Take On The New Dietary Guidelines

Monday January 17, 2005

The new Dietary Guidelines, released in early January after a year of research and deliberation by a government-appointed advisory panel, heavy food-industry lobbying and extensive public comment, are good! Quite good. The Guidelines are clearly the best of the series the Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services has produced to date. 

Here are a few reasons why I am so impressed with the new Guidelines.

  1. They emphasize calorie intake and regular exercise, not negative admonitions to avoid specific foods. Rightfully so, the focus is exercise and sound nutrition as keys for becoming fit, managing weight and safeguarding health. The exercise recommendations are on the mark. No more sissy minimums, like advice to settle for only 20 minutes several times a week, as in the past. That is  barely sufficient to slow the aging process. Instead, the 2005 Guidelines set an ambitious standard of 60 minutes a day for children, teenagers or anyone struggling to control body weight. I wonder what Ken Cooper and others of the "Don't ask lazy Americans to do too much or they will do nothing" school think of that? 

  2. The dietary suggestions no doubt will offend a number of powerful industry groups. What must the sugar lobby think of the suggestion to choose "foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners?" Or, the recommendations stressing the importance of consuming less sodium? Or, as little trans fat as possible (less than 1% of all calories), all the while increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables (four-and-a-half cups or five servings a day), low-fat dairy products and whole grains? Well done, Agriculture Secretary Anne Veneman, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, et al.

  3. The Guidelines will apply to and thus reform unhealthy school meal programs. Federal-sponsored lunch and breakfast meals will now feature more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less salt.

A feature article about the Guidelines in the Wall Street Journal (January 13, 2005; Page D4) offered this commentary: "The rewrite deals a blow to refined-grain products such as white bread and many breakfast cereals by urging Americans to eat three or more daily servings, or ounces, of whole grains such as whole wheat, oatmeal and brown rice in place of refined grains." 

Nutritionists and others worried about the obesity epidemic nation-wide must be breathing a sigh of relief, while exclaiming, "It's about time." Alas, the Guidelines did not go far enough. In some cases, powerful special interests prevailed over good sense, the evidentiary base and the public interest. Nothing unusual about that. The dairy industry, for example, succeeded not only in protecting the old standards for milk or its dairy equivalent, but succeeded in upping the recommended intake from two to three servings per day (children excepted). Never mind that a diet high in dairy products is associated with an increased risk for ovarian and prostate cancers. Also, suggestions proposed by the scientific committee and during public testimonies to reduce or, better yet, eliminate soft-drink consumption were defeated. Instead, the topic was "sugar-coated," as follows: "Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners." Good try, but let's push for stronger language in the next version.

I agree with sentiments expressed by the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest). It states that the Guidelines, however advanced, will have little impact unless a lot is done to "improve the food environment and communicate" the Guidelines to the American people. For example, Congress should establish funding for Center for Disease Control (CDC) programs that promote exercise and good nutrition consistent with the Guideline standards. The Congress should also establish legislation requiring calorie labeling on chain restaurant menus and do more to shield kids from junk-food marketing.

I don't expect any of this to make much difference, since the problems are so great and the resources devoted to implementing the Guidelines so miniscule. What will have to happen, if there is to be a halt to the slide of this country into a permanent state of massive obesity, disease and premature death (and attendant low levels of citizen well-being) is for the Congress to establish attractive subsidies for wellness. Yes, I think we will have to pay people (tax breaks, etc.) to take better care of themselves, and test adoption of varied incentive programs and performance standards. The nature of these subsidies and how they might be implemented is fodder for another essay. Suffice to note at this time that such an effort will take more political will and federal leadership than we're likely to see in the next four years. So, let's be grateful for little advances, such as the improved Guidelines, and try to always look on the bright side of life. 

Be well.

Domain: physical
Subdomain: nutrition

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