Obesity is « the single greatest threat to public health in this century, » an expert panel declared in a report Tuesday that urges Americans to slash calories and increase their physical activity.
An advisory committee updated the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans calls on people to cut back on added sugars and solid fats (butter, marbled meats) and to follow a more nutrient-rich, plant-based diet.
The report is based on the latest scientific evidence and was prepared by a 13-member panel of national nutrition and health experts. The public now has 30 days to comment at www.dietaryguidelines.gov . The final 2010 dietary guidelines will be released later this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services.
The advisory committee highlighted four major steps:
1- Reduce excess weight and obesity by cutting calorie intake and increasing physical activity.
Three steps to lower your calories are suggested: Cut portions, eat less when dining out and drink fewer sugary beverages. To achieve these goals, efforts must come from the government (taxation of sugary beverages), the industry (portion size serving in restaurant and calories shown on the menu) and individuals (moderation in eating).
2- Shift from transformed food to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
It is a major shift from that is not obvious especially from an agriculture point of view and from a marketing approach considering ads reminding us all the time to eat junk food at cheap price. Promoting peas and beans is particularly promising, especially for the poors.
But it will work only if families hold on international cuisine and traditional cooking culture.
Increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and eat only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.
Shift from sweetened beverages to milk is quite a challenge in youth attracted more by energy drinks that to water and milk.
3- Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats, which contribute about 35% of the calories in the American diet. Eating less meat means producing less meat and shift into agriculture policies and subsidies. The political will is actually far from being compliant to these changes.
Cut sodium intake gradually to 1,500 milligrams a day and lower intake of refined grains, especially those with added sugar, solid fat and sodium.
Both US and Canadian governments just started a voluntary and progressive reduction of salt program into most food by setting new targets. It will take at least over ten years to achieve this goal. The effort is tremendous considering that we consume actually 3400mg a day, more than twice the level recommended!
4-Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Those recommend that adults get at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. Children and teens should do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous physical activity each day.
The choice of intensities and durations is an approach that is not new but that give other options for the population who already knows that 30 minutes of exercise a day of moderate intensity is a minimum.
The report calls for many changes in the food environment, including:
•Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, and motivate people, especially families with children, to prepare healthy foods at home.
Not an easy task. We are all very busy and stresses and convenient food is a trend very difficult to reverse. We are loosing progressively our traditional cooking culture.
•Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks and farmers’ markets.
This will probably not happen. Unfortunately.
•Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.
Without changing the food environment, people don’t stand a chance of following the advice in the dietary guidelines. Americans today, healthy eating is like swimming upstream. It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s just it’s so hard. «