The typical American consumes too much salt and saturated fat, and engages in too little physical activity, factors that create potential health risks for millions, an advisory committee says in a report to the federal government.
A 571-page report released this week from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says concerted efforts to improve diets and increase physical activity could bolster the overall health of the U.S. population.
“Positive changes in individual diet and physical activity behaviors, and in the environmental contexts and systems that affect them, could substantially improve health outcomes,” the committee’s executive summary states.
The committee, an independent group composed of 14 experts, submitted its recommendations to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as the federal government prepares the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, scheduled for release later this year.
The government has made the report available online for public review and comment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says in a news release that the public may provide written comments about the recommendations at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov until April 8. The public also will have an opportunity to submit oral comments at a public meeting in Bethesda, MD, on March 24.
Targeting Salt and Saturated Fat
The committee concluded that Americans not only consume too much salt and saturated fat, but they also fall short in consumption of several important nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and potassium. Adolescent girls and premenopausal women also fall short in consumption of iron. About 117 million individuals have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and nearly 155 million individuals are overweight or obese, the committee says.
Poor diets, consumption of too many calories and physical inactivity directly contribute to these health issues.
"The majority of the U.S. population has low intakes of key food groups that are important sources of the shortfall nutrients, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and dairy," the committee says. "Furthermore, population intake is too high for refined grains and added sugars….The diet quality of the U.S. population does not meet recommendations for vegetables, fruit, dairy, or whole grains, and exceeds recommendations, leading to overconsumption, for the nutrients sodium and saturated fat and the food components refined grains, solid fats, and added sugars.”
The federal government should take steps that enable people to adopt a more healthful diet, the committee says.
"The U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains," the executive summary recommends. "These dietary patterns can be achieved in many ways and should be tailored to the individual’s biological and medical needs as well as socio-cultural preferences."
In a notable change regarding diet, the panel says recommended restrictions on consumption of cholesterol should be eased.
"Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 miligrams a day," the report says. "The 2015 [guidelines] will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol."
More Physical Activity
The panel also noted that most Americans would benefit from increasing their physical activity. It cited statistics that fewer than 21 percent of adults met the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) for Americans related to aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity.
"Given the strong evidence for health benefits of regular physical activity as well as the low levels of adherence to national recommendations, every effort should be made to encourage and facilitate programs at multiple levels so that children, adults, and older adults can meet the 2008 PAG in combination with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," the report urges.
The committee recommends that individuals, communities, schools, health care, and the private and public sectors should:
- Ensure that all individuals have access to safe, affordable and enjoyable modes of physical activity throughout the day in the environments where they live, learn, work and play. These opportunities must include structured programming and informal modes of transportation and play.
- Focus particular attention on people with the greatest health disparities; these individuals have the lowest physical activity participation rates, but can gain the most health benefits by being physically active.
- Support policies and promote programs for children, adolescents, adults and older adults that help set and reinforce a personal value system that instills a lifetime of physical activity.
- Enact and strengthen policies within schools, communities, health care settings, housing and work sites that promote opportunities for regular physical activity.
- Enact and strengthen policies that promote active transport (e.g., walking and bicycling) within and between communities.
- Develop and promote programs to create or enhance access to safe and enjoyable places to be physically active, including public spaces and local, state and national parks.
- Establish ongoing physical activity promotion campaigns that involve high-visibility and multiple delivery channels and multiple sectors of influence.
- Coordinate efforts among federal and non-federal initiatives, such as the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Let’s Move!, the National Physical Activity Plan and the Active Schools Acceleration Project.
"Evaluate best practices in programming at the community and national level, and identify which local and national policies in the public and private sector have demonstrated the greatest effect on increasing physical activity participation across the lifespan, especially in populations with the greatest health disparities," the committee recommends. "...Understanding which programs and policies are having the greatest impact will help focus valuable resources and national recommendations for maximum public health benefit."