The federal committee responsible for nutrition guidelines is calling for the adoption of "plant-based" diets, taxes on dessert, trained obesity "interventionists" at worksites, and electronic monitoring of how long Americans sit in front of the television.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) released its far-reaching 571-page report of recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Thursday, which detailed its plans to "transform the food system."
The report is open for public comment for 45 days, and will be used as the basis by the government agencies to develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines are used as the basis for government food assistance programs, nutrition education efforts, and for making "decisions about national health objectives."
DGAC proposed a variety of solutions to address obesity, and its promotion of what it calls the "culture of health."
"The persistent high levels of overweight and obesity require urgent population- and individual-level strategies across multiple settings, including health care, communities, schools, worksites, and families," they said.
In response, DGAC called for diet and weight management interventions by "trained interventionists" in healthcare settings, community locations, and worksites.
"Government at local, state, and national levels, the health care system, schools, worksites, community organizations, businesses, and the food industry all have critical roles in developing creative and effective solutions," they said.
DGAC also called for policy interventions to "reduce unhealthy options," limit access to high calorie foods in public buildings, "limit the exposure" of advertisements for junk food, a soda tax, and taxing high sugar and salt items and dessert.
"Align nutritional and agricultural policies with Dietary Guidelines recommendations and make broad policy changes to transform the food system so as to promote population health, including the use of economic and taxing policies to encourage the production and consumption of healthy foods and to reduce unhealthy foods," its report read.
"For example, earmark tax revenues from sugar-sweetened beverages, snack foods and desserts high in calories, added sugars, or sodium, and other less healthy foods for nutrition education initiatives and obesity prevention programs."
The amount of sedentary time Americans spend in front of computers and TV sets is also a concern to the federal panel.
They recommended "coaching or counseling sessions," "peer-based social support," and "electronic tracking and monitoring of the use of screen-based technologies" as a way to limit screen time.
The screen-time recommendations came from The Community Guide, a group affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reviewed studies that used an "electronic monitoring device to limit screen time" of teenagers.
DGAC said its recommendations to eat less meat are intended to "maximize environmental sustainability" out of concerns for climate change.
"The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet," DGAC said.
DGAC recommended Mediterranean-style and vegetarian diets as the best options. Vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, and Mediterranean diets are the most environmentally friendly, with the least greenhouse gas emissions, it said.
"All of these dietary patterns are aligned with lower environmental impacts and provide options that can be adopted by the U.S. population," the report said. "Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns."
The report added, "no food groups need to be eliminated completely to improve sustainability outcomes over the current status."
The committee also said that "altering individual and population dietary choices and patterns" would be necessary to meet its sustainability goals, as well as policy changes.
"New well-coordinated policies that include, but are not limited to, agriculture, economics, transportation, energy, water use, and dietary guidance need to be developed," DGAC said. "Behaviors of all participants in the food system are central to creating and supporting sustainable diets."
The report did drop its recommendation to limit cholesterol intake to no more than 300 milligrams per day, after warning of its dangers for nearly 40 years. The panel also signed off on three to five cups of coffee a day, saying moderate caffeine consumption can reduce the risks of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
DGAC concluded that in order to achieve its goal of a population-wide "culture of health," personal health must become a "human right."
"In such a culture, preventing diet- and physical activity-related diseases and health problems would be much more highly valued, the resources and services needed to achieve and maintain health would become a realized human right across all population strata, the needs and preferences of the individual would be seriously considered, and individuals and their families/households would be actively engaged in promoting their personal health and managing their preventive health services and activities," they said.