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2015 Dietary Guidelines: Giving You the Tools You Need to Make Healthy Choices

Posted by Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Burwell in Food and Nutrition
Feb 21, 2017

One of our government’s most important responsibilities is protecting the health of the American public, and that includes empowering them with the tools they need to make educated decisions. Since 1980, families, nutrition and health professionals across the nation have looked to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture for science-based dietary guidelines to serve as a framework for nutritious eating.

The guidelines help our citizens make their own informed choices about their diets and create a roadmap for preventing diet-related health conditions, like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. They also provide guidance to public and private programs and support efforts to help our nation reach its highest standard of health. Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce the onset of disease and the amount of money we spend on health care.

This year, we will release the 2015 edition, and though the guidelines have yet to be finalized, we know they will be similar in many key respects to those of past years. Fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats and other proteins, and limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium remain the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.

This familiar equation will remain constant, though updated to reflect the latest research and science, as well as our current understanding of the connections between diet and health. As always, these guidelines were created with input by nutrition and medical experts and practitioners—the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—as well as comments from the public, and thousands of scientific papers. HHS and USDA required the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to conduct a rigorous, systematic and transparent review of the current body of nutrition science. Following an open process over 19 months, documented for the public on, the external expert committee submitted its report to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA. HHS and USDA are considering the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, along with comments from the public and input from federal agencies, as we develop the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to be released later this year.

There has been some discussion this year about whether we would include the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines. (Sustainability in this context means evaluating the environmental impact of a food source. Some of the things we eat, for example, require more resources to raise than others.) Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important and they are addressed in a number of initiatives within the Administration. USDA, for instance, invests billions of dollars each year across all 50 states in sustainable food production, sustainable and renewable energy, sustainable water systems, preserving and protecting our natural resources and lands, and research into sustainable practices. And we are committed to continuing this investment.

In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.”  The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.

These rules of the road for nutrition are of critical importance to individuals across the nation. With a better understanding of food and nutrition, people can make educated decisions that will help keep their weight under control, prevent chronic conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, and stave off health problems, like heart disease. With these guidelines, we can empower Americans to take control of their health - for their families and themselves.

Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of Agriculture and Sylvia Burwell is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Oct 07, 2015

how is "dietary guidelines" defined in this context and does that definition clearly limit the term to only health related diets?

Robin Webb
Oct 07, 2015

I appreciate the Secretary following the law on compilation of guidelines. I appreciate the work that animal agriculture alliances have done in the area of NNMRRA compliance and what is to be required of the USDA. We all know the international and United Nations definition of "sustainability" does not bode well for animal agriculture, particularly grazing animals.

Oct 08, 2015

The dietary guidelines should include sustainability. Our diet affects our health and the environment. In turn, the environment affects our diet and health through the types and amount of foods available or the agricultural practices one has to adopt to adapt to the environmental changes. Sustainability is part of making healthy dietary choices for the short and long run. DGA should present the whole picture of how our food choices affect our health, rather than just presenting a part of it.

Linda Van Horn
Oct 08, 2015

Thank you for a definitive and carefully presented statement regarding the mandate and importance of the work of the 2015 DGAC in reviewing the world's literature regarding diet and health as presented in their report. The matter of sustainability certainly merits further attention, but should not detract from and the overarching value of the evidence based goals and recommendations provided.

Joanne Burke
Oct 08, 2015

For many in the food system nutrition community, the decision to remove sustainability goals from the 2015 DGA represents a missed opportunity to embark on a more holistic approach to discerning dietary guideline that promote health of the population and planet. If indeed this decision is based on inclusions of such goals are legally beyond the scope of the Advisory Committee, then the appeal is for both secretaries to call for a new White House Panel on Food and Nutrition that includes broad based expertise to comprehensively and transparently consider the long term implications of dietary practices on social, environmental and public health. One has only to read the very compelling report of Olivier De Schutter, to the Human Rights Council of United Nations (2014), to appreciate the urgency of embracing transformative food and agriculture policies and practices.…

Kerry Cole
Oct 09, 2015

How do you sleep at night?!

Roy Cornatzer
Oct 10, 2015

Translation: we got lobbied by the meat and dairy industry into ignoring the real science about the harm their products are causing our nation. We really aren't willing to protect the health of America. We're just kicking the can down the road another 5 years without rocking the boat.

Oct 10, 2015

Thank you for sticking to the science. As a concept sustainability has much to recommend it but it lacks the concise, immutable definition upon which to base factual and unbiased recommendations, legislation, regulations, or taxation. Certainly sustainability of food systems can still be discussed in appropriate forums. When it finally rises to the level of unbiased true science a non-politicized understanding of sustainability will be ready for prime time in the dietary guidelines of the future. Until then activists will have to find other deceptions to attack our abundant, safe, affordable American food supply.

Oct 22, 2015

Sustainability isn't a nebulous term, it is economically quantifiable. It depends on how far into the future your stake in the matter allows you to look. For corporations, it is generally the next quarterly report. For our purposes it needs to be longer.

John... you must work for the government with the way you speak. Our abundant, safe, affordable American food supply? Allow me to be systematic:
Abundant=unequally distributed, with 30-40% of our food going to waste.
Safe=confusingly overseen by both the USDA and FDA with limited regulatory authority and as of yet, no uniform scientific pathogen reduction system (still waiting for FSMA...) to keep harmful bacteria like E. coli 0157:h7 (not to mention Salmonella) out of our "safe" food supply.
And affordable=artificially propped up by government subsidies.

I won't argue that compared to the rest of the world, our food supply is relatively clean, safe and affordable, but we must face realities, like the fact that as a leader in this front, the way we grow, purchase and eat our food affects the environment and climate change and we must act accordingly.

It is truly a missed opportunity, but obviously not a battle we are ready to politically fight.
Ah well... hopefully 5 years from now the conversation will be so different that NOT putting sustainability into the guidelines will be unimaginable.