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Work underway for 2010 dietary guidelines

By Laura Crowley , 14-Apr-2008

A new advisory committee will be formed to decide on updates for the government dietary guidelines in line with advances in scientific and medical knowledge.

Such guidelines have existed since 1980, with revisions made every five years, and are aimed at advising the public on how to follow a healthy, balanced diet. They also indicate to manufacturers the areas to approach to boost the healthy profile of their products in line with consumer awareness. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services are now inviting nominations from industry experts for the committee, which will be responsible for establishing the 2010 dietary guidelines. The announcement on the Federal Register says the committee is "necessary and in the public interest" and in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act 5, which requires regular updates for the guidelines. Reasons for updated guidelines The announcement says: "The committee will evaluate whether a revision of the 2005 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is warranted, based on a thorough evaluation of the most current scientific and applied literature and, if so, will proceed to develop." As new studies find new benefits and dangers posed by different food and drink ingredients, it follows that guidelines will also evolve. Within its plans to set up a new committee, the two governmental departments say they are seeking expertise in specialty medical areas including the prevention of chronic diseases (such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease), epidemiology, nutrition biochemistry and physiology. This indicates the wide range of effects food and drink can have on health, and the focus of scientific developments. Additionally, the agencies call for a specific knowledge of obesity, as the number of overweight and obese people in America is on the increase. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, two-thirds of US adults were either overweight or obese between 2003-2004, compared with 47 percent between 1976 and 1980. Food safety and technology is also an area of consideration when forming the new committee, and this is a topic that has been brought to consumers' attention recently following scares in the US, such as contaminated goods from China and well-publicized food recalls. Any developments will affect food manufacturers as if consumers hear a consistent message about what they should and should not eat; it follows that they will be more likely to select products that are in line with this. Efficiency of the guidelines The Dietary Assessment of Major Trends in US Food Consumption report by the USDA found that Americans are failing to meet the Federal dietary recommendations. A study, published in the January 22 online edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York, raised questions on the benefits of dietary guidelines, and suggested guideline writers should be directed by explicit standards of evidence to ensure the public good. Paul Marantz, associate dean for clinical research education at Einstein, said: "The message delivered by these guidelines might actually have had a negative impact on health, including our current obesity epidemic. The possibility that these dietary guidelines might actually be endangering health is at the core of our concern about the way guidelines are currently developed and issued." The research team led by Marantz said it was vital to ensure that mistakes made in the past are not repeated when the 2010 guidelines are established. "In 2000, the Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee suggested that the recommendation to lower fat, advised in the 1995 guidelines, had perhaps been ill-advised and might actually have some potential harm," the study noted. "The committee noted concern that the previous priority given to a 'low-fat intake' may lead people to believe that, as long as fat intake is low, the diet will be entirely healthful. This belief could engender an overconsumption of total calories in the form of carbohydrates, resulting in the adverse metabolic consequences of high-carbohydrate diets." The reseachers also said "an increasing prevalence of obesity in the United States has corresponded roughly with an absolute increase in carbohydrate consumption". Although researchers for the Einstein study were careful not to make direct links between poorly worded dietary guidelines and the increase in food-related diseases, Marantz and his colleagues said it nonetheless "raises the possibility of a net harmful effect of seemingly innocuous dietary advice".

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