2010 Dietary Guidelines Finally Get Tough on Obesity

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The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were just released. Here are the take-home messages:

Balancing Calories

    • Enjoy your food, but eat less.

    • Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

    • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

    • Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.

Foods to Reduce

    • Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.

    • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

I'm in shock. I never would have believed they could pull this off. The new guidelines recognize that obesity is the number-one public health nutrition problem in America and actually give good advice about what to do about it: eat less and eat better. For the first time, the guidelines make it clear that eating less is a priority.

What about the "toxic" food environment? Shouldn't these guidelines be directed at the food and restaurant industries?

My two quibbles:

Quibble #1: They still talk about foods (fruits, vegetables, seafood, beans, nuts) when they say "eat more." But they switch to nutrient euphemisms (sodium, solid fats, and added sugars) when they mean "eat less."

They say, for example: "limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium."

This requires translation: eat less meat, cake, cookies, sodas, juice drinks, and salty snacks.

That's politics, for you.

Let's give them credit for "drink water instead of sugary drinks." That comes close. But I listened in on the press conference and conference call and several people pushed federal officials about why they didn't come out and say "eat less meat." The answers waffled.

Quibble #2: This is all about personal responsibility. What about the "toxic" food environment? Shouldn't these guidelines be directed at the food and restaurant industries? The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made a big point of that (PDF). Apparently, that's in the full dietary guidelines report but I've seen only the executive summary.

For background, see my previous posts, one on the politics of this report, and one on the science of the dietary guidelines.

Overall, the new guidelines aren't perfect but they are a great improvement.

Next: let's see what they do to improve the implementation guide—the pyramid or its equivalent. They say this will come out in a few months. Stay tuned.


This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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