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Thank you to the 38,367 people—including over 800 Salud America! members—who submitted public comments for better nutrition and limited added sugars for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans!
These comments are the latest step in shaping the guidelines.
USDA and HHS update the guidelines every five years. They are the leading set of nutrition standards for people, health professionals, and federal food programs.
Submitted between mid-July and mid-August 2020, the new comments arrive after an initial 55,000 public comments between winter 2019 and spring 2020. A federal committee then released a scientific report to inform the guidelines. Recommendations include no sugary drinks for children up to age 2 and less alcohol intake for men.
Now we await the release the of the final guidelines at the end of 2020.
“Raising up health equity in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is especially important for Latinos and other communities of color, who heavily participate in federal nutrition programs that follow the guidelines,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio. “We must bring healthier diets within reach of all populations.”
Highlights of Potential Changes in the Dietary Guidelines
Every five years, the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans updates nutritional targets and dietary limits for children (ages 2-18), adults (19-64), and older adults (65 and older).
Now, for the first time, guidelines will cover pregnant women and babies (birth to age 2).
The committee’s scientific report suggests some key potential changes:
- Reduce added sugars from 10% of daily calories to 6%. “Leading health organizations, supported by science, have long argued that lower limits would better protect health,” according to the Washington Post.
- Ban sugary drinks for children up to age 2. “Calories from sugar-sweetened beverages may displace those from nutritious foods and increase the risk of the child becoming overweight,” according to the Washington Post.
- Breastfeed babies, whenever possible. “Ever being breastfed may reduce the risk of overweight or obesity, type 1 diabetes, and asthma, compared to never being breastfed,” according to the report.
- Don’t start solid foods for babies before age 4 months to reduce future obesity risk.
- Give fully and partially breastfed babies 400 IU of vitamin D from birth until the baby is weaned and drinking vitamin D-fortified cow’s milk or infant formula, CNN reports.
- Lower the the limit of alcoholic drinks per day for men down from two to one. “Research has indicated higher average alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality,” CNN reports.
- Connect food choices with environmental health. “Public comments called for the evaluation of the social and ecological effects of dietary recommendations. Ultimately, food manufacturing and production has an environmental impact that cannot be separated from nutrition advice. Only time will tell if sustainability will be included in the highly anticipated Dietary Guidelines,” Los Angeles Daily News reports.
The committee’s report did not address red meat consumption, or the promotion of water.
Why Do We Need Strong, Equitable Dietary Guidelines?
Unhealthy eating is now the top cause of premature death in the nation.
For Latinos, unhealthy eating often is a product of the surrounding environment. Latinos tend to live in food swamps. These have an abundance of unhealthy fast food options and a void of grocery stores and farmer’s markets with healthier options, according to a Salud America! research review. This leads to over-consumption of unhealthy food and higher rates of obesity and disease among Latino children and adults. This is worse amid COVID-19.
Nutrition guidelines are particularly relevant for Latinos and other people of color. This is because these populations “disproportionately benefit from federal nutrition programs that are mandated to follow the guidelines, such as school breakfast and lunch programs,” according to Michelle D. Holmes of EcoWatch.
About 75% of students in high-poverty schools are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch and breakfast programs. Percentages of students who attended high-poverty schools were highest for Black and Latinos students (45% each), compared to White students (8%).
Similarly, 33.8% of Latinos and 19.8% of Blacks ages 0-4 are eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
“If the [committee] recommendations … become part of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they will ultimately be reflected in healthier offerings in federal programs,” according to Michelle D. Holmes in EcoWatch. “These could go a small way toward righting America’s wrongs by offering African Americans [and other people of color] healthier diet options.”
What’s Next for the Dietary Guidelines?
The final public comment period has closed.
USDA and HHS will issue final guidelines in December 2020.
If you’re interested in addressing food insecurity issues in your area, download a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.
With it, you can see how many people are living with low food access. Then you can email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share on social, and build the case to address healthy food options in at-risk areas!
Also, check out these 19 ways to focus on health equity in the pandemic aftermath. Stay up to date with health equity efforts in the aftermath of COVID-19!