USDA's Updated Guidelines

February 01, 2011

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines, what they say and what is missing; where the industry should go from here.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines, what they say and what is missing; where the industry needs to go from here.

The first edition of the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" was released in 1980; and although yesterday's announcement and press conference was broadcast live over the internet, not much has changed when it comes to just how to empower shoppers on making the important behavior and consumption changes this latest report suggests.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Departments of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did the honors.

The theme throughout the broadcast was Vilsack's “Calories in – Calories out.” And while all the science supports the premise, clearly the shortfall of this year’s guidelines has to do with 'how' to communicate these effectively. More on that later. There were few surprises in the revised guidelines, but one that surprised many: To drink water instead of sugary drinks.

It seems that the government is focusing on tackling the obesity crisis head on, as they started off with the staggering statistic that 2/3 of Americans are overweight and 75 cents of every health care dollar is spent on obesity related chronic diseases.

The two main focuses of the 2010 Guidelines are: maintaining calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight; and focusing on consuming nutrient dense foods and beverages.

Two new chapters were included in the Guidelines: “The Total Diet” which considers various health-promoting dietary patterns and “Translating & Integrating the Evidence” which addresses the broader environmental and social changes needed to support healthy eating. The USDA added that a ‘next generation’ food pyramid will be released in the coming months.

It was widely anticipated that the general recommendation of 2,300 mg for sodium intake would be reduced, which it was not, however - for those aged 51 and older, African Americans, and those who have hypertension, type-2 diabetes or chronic kidney disease, (which currently makes up about half the general population of adults), the new recommendation is a maximum daily intake of 1,500mg. The average daily intake among US adults is about 3,400mg.

Stronger language appears for recommendations to increase consumption of plant foods (vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains and nuts and seeds). And seafood consumption of 8 oz (that is two servings) per week is encouraged.

Surprisingly there was just a brief mention of front of pack labeling and “simplifying” the nutrition facts panel to make it more relatable to Americans.

The guidelines say to significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats, as these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. As well as to lower intake of refined grains coupled with added sugars, solid fat, and sodium.

Also a shout out for Vitamin B12; a substantial proportion of individuals ages 50 years and older may have a reduced ability to absorb naturally occurring vitamin B12. The 50+ are encouraged to include foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as cereals, or to take dietary supplements.
Marion Burros, of the NY Times fame and Politico asked the only tough question regarding specifics about meat.

Where’s the marketing? How do we get shoppers to read the guidelines and embrace them. Over the past couple of years we have learned a lot from social networking and apps, we have seen how the First Lady’s Let’s Move program has used both quite effectively. A lesson to be learned as the industry embarks on the Front of Package labeling program, Nutrition Keys, with a reported $50 million advertising and communications budget.

Yesterday’s conference could have taken place 30 years ago – it once again offered up the “what” – it was missing the “how.” And that’s the real need. We know people are fat, and we know we are not eating as well as we should, nor exercising as much as we should. Just last week, The NPD Group released their survey findings which declared that less people are interested in reading nutrition facts labels. We have a problem.

When we asked our facebook fans, what they thought should be included in the USDA's new guidelines... Joan Clawson said that every label should say: Gluten Free or not. Sheri Rufo Iodice wonders where the mgs of sodium will appear? And if the daily recommended physical activity time frames will be clarified or adjusted. One could argue that the communications and empowerment role is not that of the government, perhaps it’s the opportunity for the food industry.

Over the past ten days or so, we have seen Wal-Mart and the First Lady join forces to force foods to reduce sodium and added sugars.

We have seen FMI and GMA join forces to launch a voluntary front of package labeling program. But what about using our stores?

There is nothing more effective than one on one. Real people talking to real shoppers. Let’s look at Hy-Vee, Jewel, ShopRite and others who have committed resources to registered dietitians and nutrition education programs that can truly make a difference. The Guidelines are nothing more than that – science based guidelines. It is up to us to take these learnings and do what we do best, merchandise them to shoppers deliciously.

2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines