We embrace the following ideals in providing dietary guidance:
- Accessibility – Expressing dietary guidance in everyday language for everyday people; focusing on simple ideas that most can afford.
- Culture – Recognizing and honoring the knowledge of food and health relationships present in traditional foodways, while acknowledging that food is more than nutrition.
- Honesty – Knowing what the science clearly supports, what it doesn’t, and being clear about the difference.
- Individualized Nutrition – Giving voice to the importance of individual variation in dietary needs and the idea that what’s right for some isn’t necessarily right for all.
- Scientific Clarity – Interpreting well-designed clinical trials with care; interpreting observational data with caution.
The Dietary Guidelines were created in an attempt to improve health and prevent chronic disease. Yet, over the past 35 years, rates of chronic diseases related to nutrition, specifically obesity and type 2 diabetes, have skyrocketed. The Healthy Nation Coalition feels that we no longer have the luxury of simply blaming Americans for not following the Guidelines. It is time, instead, for us to reexamine our current food-health system and see how we chart a better path for the future.
While we recognize that origins of chronic disease are multifactorial, and that social-environmental influences and personal choices contribute to health outcomes, we maintain that nutritional policy has a tremendous impact on the food environment that surrounds us all.
In this regard, we believe that policy change is especially important as a human rights issue. The Dietary Guidelines impact the foods available to those whose food choices are circumscribed by them: children in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs; mothers and families in the Women Infants and Children program; and pre-school children and older adults in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
The early science that appeared to demonstrate reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic disease was tentatively established in cohorts of Caucasian-Americans, frequently males. Much of this science is now being called into question.
The same recommendations are being applied thirty-five years later, through the various Federal nutrition programs, to a population that is often much younger or older, predominantly female, and ethnically diverse. The dietary framework upon which these programs operate, specifically that a selection of foods chosen for their value in reducing the risk of chronic disease, is based on research that may not validly apply to these subpopulations; foods provided by these programs may be inappropriate for the maintenance of good health in these groups. Despite adherence to healthy eating patterns as determined by the USDA Food Pyramid, studies have shown that African American children remain at higher risk for development of diabetes and prediabetic conditions, and that African American adults gain weight at a faster pace than their Caucasian counterparts.
The Guidelines, by their own admission, have changed very little in thirty-five years. But in the meantime, America has changed significantly. And we know better how nutritional needs vary with age and life stage, genetic makeup, lifestyle, disease state, hormone levels, and gender. The prevention of chronic disease through manipulation of diet remains inconclusive and may be highly variable from one subpopulation to the next. The field of nutrigenomics is shedding light on these highly individualized responses to food components.
Restoring the relevance of the Dietary Guidelines calls for an acknowledgement of these differences. An understanding of how food and nutrition messages are constructed and how cultural influences shape science and nutrition policy can help us move forward thoughtfully in the creation of effective public health policy. Effective policy will encourage input from the very community members it impacts, support the empowerment of disenfranchised community members, and ultimately ensure that the knowledge and foods needed for health are accessible to all.