One of our government’s most important responsibilities is protecting the health of the American public, and that includes empowering them with the tools they need to make educated decisions. Since 1980, families, nutrition and health professionals across the nation have looked to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for science-based dietary guidelines to serve as a framework for nutritious eating.
The guidelines help our citizens make their own informed choices about their diets and create a roadmap for preventing diet-related health conditions, like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. They also provide guidance to public and private programs and support efforts to help our nation reach its highest standard of health. Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce the onset of disease and the amount of money we spend on health care.
This year, we will release the 2015 edition, and though the guidelines have yet to be finalized, we know they will be similar in many key respects to those of past years. Fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats and other proteins, and limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium remain the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.
This familiar equation will remain constant, though updated to reflect the latest research and science, as well as our current understanding of the connections between diet and health. As always, these guidelines were created with input by nutrition and medical experts and practitioners—the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—as well as comments from the public, and thousands of scientific papers. HHS and USDA required the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to conduct a rigorous, systematic and transparent review of the current body of nutrition science. Following an open process over 19 months, documented for the public on DietaryGuidelines.gov, the external expert committee submitted its report to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA. HHS and USDA are considering the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, along with comments from the public and input from federal agencies, as we develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be released later this year.
There has been some discussion this year about whether we would include the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines. (Sustainability in this context means evaluating the environmental impact of a food source. Some of the things we eat, for example, require more resources to raise than others.) Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important and they are addressed in a number of initiatives within the Administration. USDA, for instance, invests billions of dollars each year across all 50 states in sustainable food production, sustainable and renewable energy, sustainable water systems, preserving and protecting our natural resources and lands, and research into sustainable practices. And we are committed to continuing this investment.
In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.” The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.
These rules of the road for nutrition are of critical importance to individuals across the nation. With a better understanding of food and nutrition, people can make educated decisions that will help keep their weight under control, prevent chronic conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, and stave off health problems, like heart disease. With these guidelines, we can empower Americans to take control of their health – for their families and themselves.
Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of Agriculture and Sylvia Burwell is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.