Ok, so maybe I’m being too cavalier in saying “games” when establishing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is serious business. Seriously, anyone who sat in on the first Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee meeting last week can vouch for that.
Didn’t sit through ~12 hours of meetings? No problem, I’ll share my TOP 5 OBSERVATIONS:
The rigor and transparency associated with the 2020-2025 DGAC is truly awesome. Disclaimer: I used to work at the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the agency that serves as the administrative lead for the current Guidelines edition. I know the people. I know the intense pressure they are under. I know the significant behind-the-scenes work it takes to make the process flow internally and externally. I know the personal drive and extreme professionalism that they exhibit each and every day to produce the most robust and evidence-based Dietary Guidelines for ALL Americans. Also, (and this would be disclaimer 2): I have been monitoring and/or working on the DGA since 2005. So, I have seen A LOT. Here’s what impresses me about the 2020 process (in no particular order): We know when the meetings are up front and can plan for them. Systematic reviews will not only be conducted, but will also be peer-reviewed. We know exactly what data they are looking for. Questions have been established up front and with the benefit of public input. For those of you who have been watching the Guidelines for as long as I have, these are BIG changes and it’s obvious that continual process improvement has become a core objective.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is solid. Watching them interact during the first meeting, I was struck by this smart and reasonable group of people who are committing to donate their time and brainpower over the next year plus. It contains seasoned scientists, some of who have been on the Committee before and/or on a recent National Academies Committee dedicated to making recommendations to continually improve the Guidelines going forward. It also contains newcomers who are seasoned and up-and-coming scientists. In just 20 members, it includes expertise across the life span from pregnancy to older adults; various chronic disease states; specific macro- and micronutrients; body systems; and specific populations. Notable this go-around is that a full half of the Committee is comprised of experts specializing in pregnancy and children in infancy and early childhood. (All preceding Guidelines were for Americans 2 years and older, so not only is this an exciting development that the Dietary Guidelines will be established for all age groups, it’s also a huge opportunity to build the scientific basis and policy for those birth through age two.)
Not all the dialogue surrounding the process is as reasonable. Food is emotional. It lends itself to personal preference. And, let’s face it, we all eat and, as such, we have opinions of what works and doesn’t work for us. The Dietary Guidelines cannot be based on emotion, though. We spent a large portion of the first meeting discussing the scientific rigor that will be used, in great and impressive detail. Yet, on the second day, while attending the online webinar vs. in the Jefferson Auditorium, as I had the first day, I couldn’t believe the attendee chat box and what a flutter it was with emotional reactions, pre-judgement, and statements of certainty surrounding extreme dietary patterns that have not been proven out in the science. Not yet anyway. Or maybe not at all. Time will tell. I’m just saying it behooves all of us to hold our judgement until the science is clear. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again—the Guidelines have been remarkably consistent over the years. But, it’s because the science has been consistent, not because of a conspiracy that a very vocal sect of nutrition extremists will have you believe.
If you care about health, wellness, and nutrition—engage in the Guidelines! There are numerous opportunities to be involved in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans process, whether as a professional or as a citizen. You can monitor each of the 5 open Committee meetings (and you don’t even have to be in DC, you can do it online as well); you can submit written comment at any time in the process; you can participate in oral testimony at the upcoming July meeting in DC; and you can plan research to be conducted and eligible for consideration in future editions (they happen every 5 years). 😉 It truly takes a village because, as we know, although the DGA recommendations have been pretty constant, people are still not following them!
Real world application will be key for adherence. The average Healthy Eating Index score, a measure of adherence to the recommendations, is 59 out of 100. If our ability to follow the DGA were akin to a test score, well, we wouldn’t be the awesome nation we are! It’s going to take food pattern modeling to ensure that the Guidelines recommendations can and should occur in practice. It’s going to need the involvement of food scientists and the creation of foods that people can enjoy and be nourished by. And, it’s going to take you and me to meet the average individual or family, where they are, and help them implement the habits and mindfulness needed to achieve and sustain recommended dietary patterns, over time!