The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “the federal government’s evidence-based nutritional guidance to promote health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity.” Published every five years, the guidelines are based on the findings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and consideration of federal agency and public comments. The 2010 version encompasses “two overarching concepts” that tackle both obesity and poor nutritional content by urging Americans to (i) “maintain a healthy calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight” and (ii) “focus on consuming nutrientdense foods and beverages.”

To this end, the current guidelines feature 23 key recommendations for the general population and six key recommendations for specific populations, as well as tips “to help consumers translate the Dietary Guidelines into their everyday lives.” The 23 key recommendations include advice such as (i) “reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,500 milligrams (mg)”; (ii) “consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids”; (iii) “consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol”; (iv) “reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars”; (v) “limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains”; and (vi) “increase vegetable and fruit intake.” In addition, pregnant women should “choose foods that supply heme iron” and “consume 400 mg per day of synthetic folic acid,” while those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should “take an iron supplement” and “consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week” but “limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week” and avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. Individuals ages 50 or older should also consume foods “fortified with B12,” and roughly one-half of the U.S. population—those ages 51 or older, African Americans of any age, and people with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease— should reduce sodium intake to 1,500 mg.

“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are being released at a time when the majority of adults and one in three children is overweight or obese, and this is a crisis that we can no longer ignore,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a January 31, 2011, press release. “These new and improved dietary recommendations give individuals the information to make thoughtful choices of healthier foods in the right portions and to complement those choices with physical activity. The bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic disease. Improving our eating habits is not only good for every individual and family, but also for our country.”

Meanwhile, consumer groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have lauded USDA’s “selected messages for consumers” that break down the 29 key recommendations into actionable steps. These tips exhort consumers to “eat less,” “avoid oversized portions,” “make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” and “drink water instead of sugary drinks,” among other things. As CSPI Nutrition Policy Director Margo Wootan told The New York Times, “For them to have said ‘eat less’ is really new… Before, the dietary guidelines said, ‘Eat more fruits and vegetables,’ but that could mean add a slice of tomato to your hamburger.”

CSPI has also praised the policy implications of the 2010 Guidelines, which call for “an immediate, deliberate reduction in the sodium content of foods” and “effective policies to limit food and beverage marketing to children.” Food & Water Watch (FWW), however, drew attention to the guidelines’ failure to address genetically engineered (GE) crops and ingredients. “[T]he USDA and HHS need to take into account the evidence that the public is concerned about the potential health, environmental and economic threats of GE foods and they should not infiltrate our food supply,” opines a January 31 FWW press release. See CSPI Press Release, and The New York Times, January 31, 2011; Food Politics, February 1, 2011.