Americans handed new dietary advice
But critics urge government to take stronger action against obesity.
With nearly two-thirds of its population thought to be overweight or obese, health authorities in the United States have issued the strongest advice yet on healthy eating.
But many nutrition experts argue that without an aggressive education campaign and regulation of the food industry, the long-awaited 2005 guidelines will have little effect.
Dietary guidelines in the United States are put together by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, and are revised every five years.
The latest version1 was released on 12 January and is aimed at nutritionists, policy-makers and doctors. The departments are working on dietary advice for the public based on the new guidelines, which will replace the existing and widely quoted 'food guide pyramid' and is expected to be released in the next few months.
Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, DC
They also stress the choice of wholegrain foods over refined ones; recommend an increase in daily consumption of fruits and vegetables; and advise minimal intake of refined sugars and trans-fats, a type of fat that is found in many processed foods and strongly linked to heart disease.
Nutrition specialists have generally welcomed the guidelines, saying that they accurately reflect scientific evidence. "They look to me like the strongest dietary guidelines yet produced," says Michael Jacobson, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group in Washington DC.
But Jacobson and other experts warn that the public largely ignore current dietary guidelines, and that people will turn a blind eye to the new ones too, unless the government takes more aggressive action to promote or even enforce them.
Nutrition expert, New York University
Some also advocate additional legislation that would include subsidizing healthy foods, regulating food advertising aimed at children, requiring restaurants to label the calorie content of their foods and limiting salt and trans-fat levels.
"The government would have much more of an impact doing these things than issuing guidelines," says Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders in New Haven, Connecticut. In Sweden, for example, advertising to young children is already banned.
The government has previously come under fire for allowing the food industry to influence their health recommendations. There are hints of this in the 2005 guidelines too, says nutrition expert Marion Nestle at New York University. For example, the document fails to list foods to avoid if you are trying to limit sugar, which would include soft drinks, candy and sweetened cereals.
"They do everything possible to give advice without saying what to eat less of," Nestle says. "It's total obfuscation."
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005