Sarah Reinhardt, the lead food systems and health analyst for the Food & Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says she knows how the federal 2020 Dietary Guidelines could be improved.

And her idea is a timely one because the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Committee is meeting today by webcast to discuss its draft advisory report. The committee is charged with writing new guidelines to replace the 2015 version.

“But here’s the thing: five years after making these recommendations, the federal government still hasn’t invested a dime in them,” Reinhardt writes in her blog.  “All the while, poor diets continue to plague the U.S. population and diet-related disparities persist. The Dietary Guidelines is a rigorous, science-based document. But when it comes to addressing diet-related health disparities, that’s all it is.”

This is the ninth time since 1980 that the federal government has gone through the process that eventually results in new guidelines. Nutrition and food groups participate and follow the process closely.

But after 40 years, there is little evidence that federal dietary guidelines have done much for the public’s health:

  • From 1999-2000 through 2017-2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5 percent to 42.4 percent, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent.
  • The percentage of adults with diabetes increased with age, reaching 26.8 percent among those aged 65 years or older. 
  • About half of adults, 45 percent, with uncontrolled hypertension have a blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher. This includes 37 million U.S. adults.

The advisory committee today is supposed to review draft conclusion statements for the final report that is submitted to the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The new guidelines are not final until the secretaries sign off on them. The document is on track to be finished by later in July.

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-SD, thinks more time should be taken on the 2020  guidelines because the number of Americans who are overweight, obese, or afflicted by Type 2 diabetes has grown to more than 80 percent.   Johnson is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. In a letter to the USDA and HHS Secretaries, Johnson said COVID-19 has “only exacerbated” the impact on people with such underlying health problems.

Others involved in the process were also pressing ahead of today’s meeting for more time.

“If we want the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to leave us better prepared for the next pandemic and to help see us through this one, we need to ask our elected officials to start investing in actionable recommendations to address diet-related health disparities now,” UCS’s Reinhardt adds.

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