Reporting from Washington — The Department of Agriculture issued new guidelines Tuesday for improving the nation's diet, but the main recommendations are steps Americans have so far largely avoided — cutting back on salt, sugar and saturated fats, and consuming more fruits and vegetables.
FOR THE RECORD:
Dietary guidelines: An article in Wednesday's Section A about preliminary federal dietary guidelines should have listed the Department of Health and Human Services as a coauthor of the recommendations. It also referred incorrectly to the recommended maximum daily intake of salt. It should have said "sodium." —
Indeed, the preliminary version of the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans is not much different from recommendations issued 30 years ago. However, the growing mountain of evidence linking an overweight, sedentary lifestyle to disease and high medical costs may give the new guide added urgency.
"The basic advice is the same. The new twist is that they're recognizing the fact that it's very hard for people to follow that advice," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Candidly acknowledging the lack of progress, the USDA Guidelines Advisory Committee said the new dietary recommendations, issued every five years, were aimed at "an American public of whom the majority are overweight or obese and yet undernourished in several key nutrients."
Both the increasing severity of the problem and its cost are reflected in the new recommendations on salt.
Americans currently consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of salt daily. Excessive intake has been implicated in heart disease, strokes and other maladies costing billions of dollars annually.
The new guidelines lower the recommended maximum daily intake of salt from 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams. In 2005, the lower figure was the recommended maximum for African Americans, people of all races who were middle-aged and older, and people with high blood pressure.
But today, 70% of the U.S. population falls into at least one of those categories, so the committee recommended applying the 1,500 milligram standard to the entire population.
The lower number is in line with a recommendation made in April by the Institute of Medicine and with a request by the Food and Drug Administration that food and beverage makers cut the amount of salt in their products.
The committee of 13 nutrition and health experts recommended that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services develop a national strategy involving better nutrition education.
The panel called for improvements in nutrition literacy and cooking skills to encourage preparation of healthy foods at home; increased emphasis on health, nutrition and physical education in schools; and increased availability of fresh produce for consumers.
Although few Americans may be familiar with details of the guidelines beyond the government's widely publicized food pyramid, the document influences decisions in school breakfast and lunch programs, Meals on Wheels, food labeling and in discussions on regulatory issues such as food marketing to children.
This year's preliminary guidelines will be reviewed by government agencies and are subject to comment by the public. A final version of the guidelines is expected by the end of the year.