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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA)?

A: The DGA provide advice for making food choices that promote good health, advocate a healthy weight, and help prevent disease. The DGA are for healthy Americans age 2 and older.

The DGA answer the questions:

  • What should Americans eat?
  • How should we prepare our food to keep it safe and wholesome?
  • How should we be active to be healthy?

The advice is based on a thorough, transparent, and unbiased review of the scientific evidence. The DGA are congressionally mandated under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (Public Law 101-445, Section 301 [7 U.S.C. 5341], Title III). Every 5 years, the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services release a new set of guidelines.

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Q: Why are the DGA important?

A: The DGA help Americans make smart choices about food and physical activity so they can have healthier lives.

The DGA form the basis of Federal nutrition policy, education, outreach, and food assistance programs. They are also used by consumers, industry, nutrition educators, and health professionals.

All Federal dietary guidance for the public is required to be consistent with the DGA. The DGA provide all Government agencies a single set of recommendations to use when communicating with the public. They are used in the development of materials, messages, tools, and programs on healthy eating and physical activity.

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Q: Why are the DGA revised every 5 years?

A: The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services must review and release the DGA every 5 years. This review and release is required by the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (Public Law 101-445, Section 301[7 U.S.C. 5341], Title III).

The DGA are required to be based on current scientific and medical knowledge.

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Q: Why are the DGA only for people age 2 years and older?

A: The DGA have always focused on adults and children age 2 and older. Children under age 2 are not included because their nutritional needs and eating patterns vary by their developmental stage and greatly differ from those of older children and adults.

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Q: Are there any major themes in the 2010 DGA?

A: There are two major themes in the 2010 DGA:

  • Balance calories to manage body weight.
  • Focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

Balancing calories to manage body weight includes:

  • Controlling total calorie intake to manage body weight.
  • Increasing physical activity.
  • Avoiding inactivity.

Focusing on nutrient-dense foods and beverages includes:

  • Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and seafood more often
  • Eating foods and beverages high in solid fats (major sources of saturated and trans fats) and added sugars less often, and reducing sodium (salt) intake.

Overall, the DGA includes 23 key recommendations for all Americans and 6 recommendations for specific population groups.

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Q: What are the differences between the 2010 DGA and the 2005 DGA?

A: There are a number of differences, including the emphases on managing body weight through all life stages and on proper nutrition for children.

The 2010 DGA incorporate research on eating patterns for the first time. Also, the eating patterns presented now include vegetarian adaptations.

A new section in the 2010 DGA (Chapter 6) acknowledges the influence of the broader food and physical activity environment on Americans and their daily food, beverage, and physical activity choices. This section calls for improvements to the environment through system-level changes and coordinated efforts from all sectors that influence these choices.

The 2010 key recommendations indicate which food groups to eat more or less of, rather than providing an exact amount of food that should be eaten from each food group. This approach is directional rather than quantitative. Although the 2010 key recommendations do not specify exact quantities of what to eat, an entire chapter (Chapter 5) and several appendices discuss eating patterns that include quantities.

The 2010 DGA also provide revised guidance on reducing daily sodium (salt) intake. Americans should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium (salt) each day.  That amount is lowered to 1,500 mg for people who:

  • Are age 51 and older
  • Are African American
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have diabetes
  • Have chronic kidney disease.

About half of the U.S. population, including children and the majority of adults, fall into one of the groups that should limit their daily sodium (salt) intake to 1,500 mg.

Additional differences include:

  • A key recommendation for increasing seafood intake
  • Addressing eating behaviors (e.g., breakfast, snacking, fast food) and the association of screen time with increased body weight
  • The identification of specific foods that should be limited because they are substantial sources of sodium (salt), saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and added sugars
  • A focus on nutrients that are important to public health (potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D)
  • A new appendix table that includes key consumer behaviors and potential implementation strategies for professionals
  • New guidance for alcohol consumption for breastfeeding women

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Q: Why are only 6 key recommendations for specific population groups included in the 2010 DGA?

A: The 2005 DGA had 18 key recommendations for specific population groups; for 2010, there are six. Many of the 2005 recommendations for specific population groups now apply to most Americans; therefore, they have been incorporated into the general key recommendations or included as topics and guidance that are discussed within the text.

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Q: How was the scientific and medical evidence reviewed? Was the 2010 process different from that used in 2005?

A: Topic areas addressed in the 2010 DGAC Report were similar to those covered in 2005. The 2005 DGAC used a modified systematic review process to address its research questions.

The 2010 DGAC used a new method that involved working with the newly established USDA Nutrition Evidence Library to conduct evidence-based, systematic reviews of the research related to the major questions addressed by the DGA. Of the DGAC’s 180 questions, 130 were addressed through this method.

The DGAC answered the remaining questions using data analyses, food pattern modeling analyses, and consideration of other evidence-based reviews or existing reports such as the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

The decision-making process and evidence relevant to each review are publicly available at www.nutritionevidencelibrary.gov.

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Q: Was the public able to comment on the DGA development process?

A: A public comments database was accessible during the 2010 DGA development process. The public was able to provide written comments and submit supporting material.

A total of 765 written comments on the DGA process were posted between October 15, 2008, and April 29, 2010. A total of 1,159 comments on the DGAC Report were posted from June 15 to July 15, 2010.

In addition, oral testimony was heard at the second DGAC meeting and at a public meeting on the DGAC Report in July 2010.

A total of 51 organizations and individuals provided comments on the DGA process on January 29–30, 2009 (second DGAC meeting). Fifty organizations and individuals provided oral comments on the DGAC Report on July 8, 2010.

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Q: Who are the members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC)?

A: The DGAC consists of 13 experts in nutrition and public health with particular expertise in:

  • Energy balance
  • Epidemiology
  • General medicine
  • Nutritional biochemistry and physiology
  • Food safety and technology
  • Gerontology
  • Pediatrics
  • Maternal/gestational health
  • Nutrition education
  • Prevention of various chronic diseases
  • Evidence review methodology

The DGAC had a balanced and diverse membership, with seven women and six men of various ethnicities, ages, and regions of the country. Information about each DGAC member is available in the DGAC Report, available at www.dietaryguidelines.gov.

Ethics clearance identified no potential conflicts of interests of DGAC members.

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Q: How was the 2010 DGA Policy Document written based on the DGAC Report?

A: A working group of nutritionists from USDA-CNPP and HHS-ODPHP translated the Advisory Report into a draft of the 2010 DGA Policy Document. Public and agency comments on the DGAC Report were considered at that time.

The draft policy document was peer-reviewed according to the Office of Management and Budget’s Quality of Information Act requirements. A number of USDA and HHS agencies reviewed and cleared the Policy Document.

The USDA-CNPP and HHS-ODPHP team finalized the document, which was then sent to the Secretaries of USDA and HHS in December 2010 for final review, clearance, and sign-off.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius jointly released the 7th edition of the DGA Policy Document on January 31, 2011.

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Q: How is the Government helping consumers understand advice from the DGA?

A: The DGA lay the groundwork for healthy eating, and consumer-oriented materials help consumers live by the guidelines’ principles. Five fact sheets have been developed for consumers, each focusing on a different aspect of healthy eating. The fact sheets translate the DGA into actionable, easy-to-understand language for consumers.

More consumer-friendly advice and tools, including a next generation Food Pyramid, will be released by USDA and HHS in the coming months.

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Q: How will the 2010 DGA be distributed and implemented?

A: The policy document is available online at www.dietaryguidelines.gov. This Web site also will provide information about availability of hard copies and ordering information, as soon as the information is available.   

As part of the DGA nutrition education and communication efforts, USDA-CNPP and HHS-ODPHP will develop simple, direct, actionable messages, tools, and information based on ongoing consumer research. With the assistance of both Federal and industry partners, USDA-CNPP will conduct marketing activities to promote the overarching 2010 DGA concepts and key recommendations.

Communication information on the 2010 DGA will be available for professionals at www.dietaryguidelines.gov and www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.

Consumer information will be available at www.mypyramid.gov and at www.healthfinder.gov/prevention.

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Q: Which Federal programs are impacted by the DGA?

A: Agencies within USDA and HHS rely on and plan for receiving DGA Policy Recommendations every 5 years. Agencies use the newest information provided through the DGA to make appropriate changes and program updates. Nutrition education is a key part of most programs and requires providing the public with the most accurate and up-to-date dietary recommendations, nutrition advice, food resource management, and food safety practices.

Here are some examples of how various agencies use the DGA:

USDA

  • Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) nutrition assistance programs use the DGA to calibrate their food benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps); the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) implements the DGA through Nutrition Facts labeling and food safety education programs and campaigns.
  • The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) uses the DGA as the nutritional basis for the USDA Food Plans (Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal) used for SNAP allotments, food allowances for the U.S. military, and setting child support and foster care guidelines.
  • The USDA Food Patterns are based on the DGA and serve as the foundation for development of consumer materials, including MyPyramid educational materials and interactive, online dietary assessment and planning tools for consumers.
  • The Healthy Eating Index is updated based on the new DGA to measure the diet quality of the U.S. population.
  • Other USDA agencies use the DGA to guide decisions on food purchasing, creating research grant opportunities, the analyses of food consumption survey data, and monitoring other national initiatives. These agencies include:
    • Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
    • Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
    • Economic Research Service (ERS)
    • National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

HHS

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) implements “Fruits & Veggies—More Matters” as a program that provides substantial resources for consumers based on the DGA. CDC also updates the Weight Management Research to Practice Series.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) incorporates the DGA into “Front of Pack” and other nutrition labeling initiatives.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) produces many consumer initiatives to promote healthy eating and physical activity principles outlined in the DGA—for example, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s We Can!® childhood obesity prevention program and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Eating Plan, and the Eunice Kenedy Shriver National Insitute of Child Health and Human Development’s Media-Smart Youth materials.
  • The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) implements Healthy People 2020, which includes a section on nutrition and weight status, and that provides a mechanism to measure the Nation’s progress toward implementing the recommendations of the DGA.
  • Other HHS agencies have nutrition and health education programs geared toward specific population groups based on the DGA, such as the Older Americans Nutrition Program and Head Start. These HHS agencies include:
    • Administration on Aging (AoA)
    • Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
    • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
    • Indian Health Service (IHS)
    • Office on Women’s Health (OWH)

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