It's up to the people

US government's guidelines for 'good food' quite mild

By Vibha Varshney
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

the us government's D epartment of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services (dohhs) have come out with new guidelines on good eating. It is felt that though the guidelines are an improvement over existing rules, they still leave much space for improvement.

The guidelines emphasise good food and physical activity. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats or brown rice, should provide about 2,000 kilocalories in a person's diet every day. Fatty foods should provide 20 to 35 per cent of a day's total calorie intake. People have also been advised to have around three cups of low fat milk products daily. But no range for sugar consumption has been set. "The sugar lobby has won on the 10 per cent figure for sugar," says Marion Nestle, professor of public health, New York University. Before the formulation of the guidelines, extensive scientific deliberations had taken place about recommending that sugar consumption should provide just 10 per cent of a person's daily calorie intake. But the premise did not find place in the final guidelines (see 'Fat Chance', Down To Earth, May 15, 2004). The government, however, denies that the guidelines have been influenced by the food industry.

The guidelines label soft drinks, sugary food and junk food as "discretionary foods" and suggest minimising their consumption. They also recommend at least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily. "If I were scoring the new guidelines on a scale of 1 to 10 (high score wins), I would give Big Dairy 10, Public Health 6, and Big Sugar 2. This is progress, but we have a long way to go," says Walter Willett of the Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health.

A major chink in the guidelines, consumer groups say, is that they are silent about controlling junk food advertising. But the government says such suggestions would have been unjustified. "We in this administration feel strongly that people should have an opportunity to advertise. But we have to do a better job to get out and more aggressively tell the other side," says Tommy G Thompson, secretary, dohhs. But experts believe Thompson is being too optimistic. "He thinks it is easy. I find that astounding. There is a need to put money into education and legislative initiatives," asserts Nestle. "These guidelines may help curb the obesity epidemic if there is real action based upon them," says Willett.

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