2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Report from the Field

May 28, 2015

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) Summit, hosted by The Ohio State University and National Geographic. I’ve posted previously on the dietary guidelines process here.

Filled with an impressive line-up of food policy, advocacy and academic representatives, the summit dove deep into what it will take to develop guidelines that address the needs of a diverse population, while communicating in a way that is more meaningful for consumers.

Conversations at the summit ranged from improving the health status of vulnerable populations to the use of technology as a means to improve food access. The bottom line: Collaboration within all parts of the food system is needed to create change. To sum up a morning packed with great discussions across the food sector, here are five highlights from the summit.

1. Scale and Spread

Many speakers stressed the importance of scaling up effective food programs. As Ginny Ehrlich, Director of Childhood Obesity at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation stated, “we have pockets of fantastic work but haven’t figured out how to scale these evidence-based programs.” Building a network of successful food programs is vital to expanding their reach across the country.

2. Positive Messaging

Research has shown that consumers are not so receptive to the “avoid this, reduce that” messaging that has long been a part of the dietary guidelines. Instead, messaging should be positive and focus on what consumers should be eating, rather than telling them what they can’t eat.

3. Innovations in Technology

We have started to see technology reach the food industry (think online delivery, food apps, etc.), but how we can use these innovations to reach more vulnerable populations? “Uberizing” programs like SNAP and WIC was mentioned by Debra Eschmeyer, Executive Director of the Lets Move! Initiative, as a way to increase food access in underserved communities.

4. Buy-in is Crucial

We need to approach change at the community level. Connecting with communities and understanding how to incorporate their culture into a healthier food environment is critical to creating change. We must better understand how to create social connections within a community. For example, when people see other members of their community have changed their eating patterns, it entices them to join in because they want to feel associated with the group. Success is not possible with a “one diet fits all” solution to heathier eating, but rather a tailored approach that meets individual and community needs.

5. Designing for the Consumer

Consumers drive the food industry. Whether it’s a food activist paving the way for industry change or the reactions to the media telling us what we should avoid based on the latest research, consumers now can dictate what we see in the marketplace and restaurants. We can preach about healthy food, but if there’s no demand or it’s not offered in a way that’s convenient for consumers, there will be no change in their dietary patterns.

As it relates to progress reviewing the report from the DGAC, Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services and the USDA, reported that over 29,000 public comments were received for the 2015 DGA (compared to roughly 1,200 for the 2010 DGA). Despite the high level of comments, he assured the audience that the USDA and HHS are still on track to release the DGA later this year.

In the meantime, it’s great to see both public and private sectors coming together to address our country’s obesity epidemic. The DGA sets the groundwork for creating healthier food programs and initiatives across the country, but it will take a partnership among all stakeholders within our food system to translate the DGA into something effective for consumers.