Arguably, supporting all Americans in building and maintaining healthy eating patterns has never been more important than it is right now. Consider this:
- We are a nation plagued with over-consumption. Americans routinely overconsume calories, largely from excess consumption of saturated fats and added sugars; 
- We are a nation also plagued with under-consumption. The vast majority of Americans do not eat recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, and dairy; 10.5% of households did not have enough food available to them (food insecurity) in 2020, a statistic that remained unchanged from 2019;
- It’s no surprise – our diets are out of balance. The average Healthy Eating Index score is 59%, indicating inadequate diet quality overall.1
Two main policy initiatives help drive diet quality and nutrition security in the United States: 1) The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) – the scientific underpinning for all nutrition-related recommendations, programs, and education; and 2) The Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) – the calculation for how much money is required for Americans to build a healthy dietary pattern in accordance with the DGA that serves as the basis for SNAP allotments. Both the DGA and TFP are required by law to be examined and updated every five years. The next DGA will be released in 2025, followed by an updated TFP in 2026.
It’s important to understand and appreciate the science that informs and drives both the DGA and TFP. There are three main scientific inputs to the DGA: 1) Nutrition Evidence Systematic Reviews (NESR); 2) Intake data analyses; and 3) Menu modeling. There are four main considerations for TFP updates in 2021 and beyond: 1) Current food prices; 2) Food consumption; 3) Food composition; and 4) Dietary guidance.
A Team Approach – Government + Private Sector
As you can imagine, executing updates to the DGA and TFP requires extensive knowledge and expertise, and to be successful, the bridge between these two policy documents needs to be strong and seamless. For instance, the TFP is based on the DGA recommendations and intake data that crosscuts both projects. Further, the TFP requires specified economic and analytic expertise. Fortunately, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is uniquely situated to meet these needs with its multidisciplinary team of nutritionists, analysts, and economists – many with priceless historical knowledge.
It’s important to acknowledge that good policy and implementation also takes a village. As such, there are ample opportunities to submit science and comments for consideration to each Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and government staff facilitating DGA development. Similarly, the 2021 TFP update included engagement with subject matter experts and stakeholders.
Prepare to Participate in Future DGA and TFP Updates
As always, each edition of policy can only be as strong as the available data. Below are examples of some gaps which private sector stakeholders can work to close in the coming years to ensure up-to-date evidence is available to inform the next editions of the DGA and TFP.
Sample needs for the 2025-2030 DGA:
- Additional data related to long-term health and risk of morbidity and mortality including, but not limited to the role of body composition (e.g., visceral adiposity), gut microbiome, immunity, and personalized nutrition, and key dietary drivers of each;
- Evidence for the specific components of health-promoting dietary patterns, as well as aggregate role of healthy dietary patterns;
- Research on optimal nutrition during preconception, gestation, and lactation;
- Data informing both what and how to feed older infants and toddlers and how to promote healthy eating patterns throughout the lifespan; and
- Evidence-based ways to increase achievement of and adherence to recommended eating patterns, including in key ethnic and low-income groups.
Sample needs for the 2026 TFP:
- Considerations for the time to purchase and prepare healthy foods and the cost of transportation to food shop;
- An adjustment factor for the cost of household food loss/waste;
- Ways to optimize the food dollar by decreasing household food loss/waste;
- Better understanding of how to include mixed dishes in TFP market baskets;
- Consideration of cultural foodways as they apply to food cost and TFP market baskets;
- Validation of calculations in real-world scenarios (qualitative and quantitative consumer research on the ability to build healthy dietary patterns based on the TFP allotment); and
- Scaling the TFP up or down from the reference family of four individuals.
Nutrition On Demand can work with you to identify the sweet spot between your interests and future needs for upcoming DGAs and TFPs. With expertise in food and nutrition policy as well as research and analysis, we partner with our clients for successful and mutually productive engagement in government processes related to policy development and implementation. We facilitate understanding of key milestones and timing for this work to yield lasting impact. If you would like to set up a time to discuss how we can work with your organization, please reach out here.
 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
 Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2021. Household Food Security in the United States in 2020, ERR-298, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service