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The federal government issued its final version of the 2015 dietary guidelines, which stresses a “collective” approach to eating and lectures businesses to add physical activity into their employees’ work days by leading “walking meetings.”
The long-awaited guidelines ultimately made no mention of “sustainability,” an issue that brought controversy to the drafting process. The joint committee appointed by the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture initially planned to recommend plant-based diets due to concerns about the environment. After pushback from Congress, the government decided it would not include environmental issues in the final version.
The final version, which will be used by policymakers and bureaucrats that oversee federal food programs, was released Thursday. Though the guidelines do not include recommendations to drop meat because of climate change they do endorse eating less meat.
The guidelines advise teenage boys to eat less meat and eggs and suggest that diets with less consumption of meat reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Some individuals, especially teen boys and adult men, also need to reduce overall intake of protein foods by decreasing intakes of meats, poultry, and eggs and increasing amounts of vegetables or other underconsumed food groups,” the guidelines state.
The guidelines place calorie limits of 2,400 and 3,000 per day for women and men respectively, and a diet with a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, and oils. Three diets are recommended: the Healthy U.S.-Style diet, a Mediterranean-style diet, and a vegetarian diet.
The guidelines also advise to limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, reduce sodium intake, and to avoid whole milk despite recent studies that found benefits to drinking whole milk.
The theme of the 2015 version of the guidelines was “All food and beverage choices matter,” and the committee took a collective approach to food and health.
In the third chapter of the guidelines, “Everyone Has a Role in Supporting Healthy Eating Patterns,” the committee offers changes workplaces and schools can make to promote the government’s eating advice.
“In practice, aligning with the Dietary Guidelines at the population level requires broad, multisectoral coordination and collaboration,” the guidelines state. “This collective action is needed to create a new paradigm in which healthy lifestyle choices at home, school, work, and in the community are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative. Everyone has a role in helping individuals shift their everyday food, beverage, and physical activity choices to align with the Dietary Guidelines.”
The committee added that “all segments of society” are required to promote healthy eating and physical activity and develop “educational resources that deliver information in a way that is compelling, inspiring, empowering, and actionable for individuals.”
The guidelines describe certain “shifts” individuals and businesses can make. Businesses are encouraged to “adopt organizational changes and practices.”
“Encourage opportunities in the workplace for regular physical activity through active commuting, activity breaks, and walking meetings,” according to one example the committee offered.
A “walking meeting” is a business meeting where individuals continuously walk around, rather than sitting around a table.
The committee said communities should promote farmers’ markets, community gardens, and “walkable communities.”
Examples of “shifts” individuals are instructed to make are from white bread to whole, a Fig Newton to an apple, plain popcorn instead of buttered, bread instead of croissants, and English muffins instead of biscuits.
The committee also encouraged Americans to eat a piece of fruit instead of a doughnut, cake, pie, cookie, ice cream, or candy.
The committee based some of its recommendations on the “Social-Ecological Model,” which argues that an individual decides what they eat based on social and cultural norms and a “multitude of choices, messages, individual resources, and other factors.”
“These decisions are rarely made in isolation,” the guidelines said.
The final guidelines also encourage restaurants to change their menus and shrink portion sizes. Restaurants should add offer more vegetables, low-fat dairy options, and whole grain items, the guidelines said, similar to the requirements already in place in the school lunch program.
“Strategies could include supporting policy and/or program changes, fostering coalitions and networks, developing or modifying products and menus, and/or creating opportunities to be physically active,” the guidelines said.
“To ensure widespread adoption of these sectoral efforts, complementary efforts can include training, education, and/or motivational strategies,” the guidelines added.
The committee also wants childcare centers to “initiate active outreach to parents about making positive changes at home.”
“Americans make food and beverage choices in a variety of settings at home, at work, and at play. Aligning these settings with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines will not only influence individual choices—it can also have broader population level impact when multiple sectors commit to make changes together,” the guidelines said.