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Questions and Answers on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

General Overview

Revision Process

General Overview

Q:What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

A:The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) provides sound advice for making food and physical activity choices that promote good health, a healthy weight, and help prevent disease for Americans ages 2 years and over, including Americans at increased risk of chronic disease. The recommendations are based on a rigorous review of relevant scientific evidence through a transparent process and serve as the cornerstone for all Federal nutrition education and program activities.

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Q:Why are the Dietary Guidelines important?

A:The DGA form the basis of Federal nutrition policy, education, outreach, and food assistance programs 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 guidelines provide the scientific basis for the government to speak in a consistent and uniform manner. They are used in the development of print and web-based educational materials, messages, tools, and programs to communicate healthy eating and physical activity information to the public.

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Q:Why does the government create the Dietary Guidelines and when are they updated?

A:The DGA is 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). The DGA is required to be based on the preponderance of current scientific and medical knowledge and to be released by the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) every five years. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the current Federal nutrition policy document. The process for revising the guidance for 2015 is currently underway.

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Q:How are the Dietary Guidelines communicated?

A:The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the current Federal nutrition policy document. The policy document is available online at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Federal Agencies, regional and state offices, food assistance programs, food and health organizations, and industry partners, as well as local community educators and advocates communicate messages and implement guidance based on the latest Dietary Guidelines. Resources to help communicate the Dietary Guidelines, including consumer messages, tools, and educational materials, are available at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov, www.DietaryGuidelines.gov, and www.health.gov.

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Q:Why are the Dietary Guidelines only for ages 2 years and older?

Early iterations of the Dietary Guidelines recognized the unique nutritional needs and eating patterns of infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months of age because of the wide variance in the developmental stages of this age group. For this reason, the DGA has traditionally focused on adults and children 2 years of age and older. However, a separate effort is currently underway to identify and prioritize important topics applicable to Americans from birth to 24 months of age to inform the development of dietary guidance for this important age group. The intent is that by 2020 the Dietary Guidelines will address Americans of all ages, starting from birth.

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Q:How are the Dietary Guidelines implemented and which Federal programs are impacted?

A:Agencies within HHS and USDA rely on and plan for receiving DGA policy recommendations every five 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 where the focus is on providing the most accurate and up-to-date dietary recommendations, nutrition advice, food resource management, and food safety practices. Examples of how the DGA is used by various agencies include:

In HHS

  • 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 and also updates the Healthy Weight website in English and Spanish (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight and http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/spanish/index.html).
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers some aspects of the DGA in the Nutrition Facts labeling and other nutrition labeling initiatives. FDA’s labeling campaigns, such as Spot the Block, and Label Man, as well as curricula such as Science and the Food Supply and Investigating Food Safety from Farm to Table are consistent with the DGA messages.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its agencies produce many consumer initiatives to promote principles of the DGA, such as WECAN!™(a multi-agency collaboration); Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Eating Plan, Portion Distortion, and Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart by National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI); Media-Smart Youth materials by National Institute for Child Health and Human Development; and various professional and consumer factsheets on vitamins and other nutrients.
  • Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) implements Healthy People 2020, which includes national objectives on nutrition and weight status, that provide a mechanism to measure the Nation’s progress toward implementing the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines . ODPHP develops the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) from which key messages are incorporated into the DGA. Eat Healthy * Be Active Community Workshops developed for educators and lay leaders on the community level offer implementation of DGA consumer messages, PAG messages, and USDA’s MyPlate messages and Ten Tips series.
  • Other HHS agencies, such as the Administration on Community Living (ACL), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Indian Health Service (IHS), and Office on Women’s Health (OWH), have nutrition and health education programs geared toward specific population groups based on the DGAs, such as the Older Americans Nutrition Program, Head Start, Bodyworks, and Bright Futures.

In 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 Food Stamps), Women Infants and Children (WIC) program, and the National School Lunch Program.
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) implements the DGA through Nutrition Facts labeling and food safety education programs and campaigns.
  • 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 MyPlate educational materials and SuperTracker, an interactive, online dietary assessment and planning tool for consumers. The Healthy Eating Index is a measure of diet quality that assesses conformance to the DGA and is updated based on each new DGA, as appropriate.
  • Other USDA agencies, such as the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Economic Research Service (ERS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), use the DGA to guide decisions on food purchasing, create research grant opportunities, analyze food consumption survey data, and monitor other national initiatives.

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Revision Process

Q:What is the process for creating a revised set of guidelines?

A:In the first stage of the revision process, a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (the Committee or DGAC) is chartered following Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) guidelines. The Committee is composed of nationally recognized experts in the field of human nutrition and chronic disease prevention.

The DGAC will consider the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and determine topics for which new scientific evidence is available that may inform revisions to existing recommendations or suggest new guidance. The DGAC will examine the state of current scientific evidence using systematic reviews, data analyses, and/or food pattern modeling analyses. Additional sources of information may include scientific evidence-based reports, input from expert guest speakers, as well as oral and written comments from the public.

The DGAC will submit an Advisory Report of its recommendations with rationales to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA for consideration in developing the 8th edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy document.

During the second stage of the revision process, the Departments develop the policy document, Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The DGA is based on the Committee’s Report and a consideration of public and Federal Agency comments.

Q:How is the Dietary Guidelines revision process managed?

A:The DGA is jointly developed and published by HHS and USDA, with the lead role rotating between the two Departments every five years. HHS’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) has the administrative lead for developing the 2015 DGA; however, each step of the development of the Dietary Guidelines is a joint effort between HHS and USDA.

The process is overseen by four Co-Executive Secretaries, two from HHS’s ODPHP and two from USDA, one from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), who serves as the lead for USDA, and the other from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The DGAC Co-Executive Secretaries manage the activities of the DGAC and coordinate and lead the Federal staff supporting the Committee’s work.

Q:How will information on the Dietary Guidelines revision process be made available?

A:The website www.DietaryGuidelines.gov will serve as the clearing house for information related to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee public meetings and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines process. Written public comments; public meeting registration; background materials, such as estimated time tables, meeting summaries, and transcripts; and other public materials related to the Dietary Guidelines process will be posted in this central location.

Q:How are the members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee selected?

A:Public nominations to the Committee were sought in the fall of 2012 in the Federal Register announcement for the establishment of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Expertise was sought in specific specialty areas including cardiovascular disease; type 2 diabetes; overweight and obesity; osteoporosis; cancer; pediatrics; gerontology; maternal/gestational nutrition; epidemiology; general medicine; energy balance, which includes physical activity; nutrient bioavailability; nutrition biochemistry and physiology; food processing science, safety, and technology; public health; nutrition education and behavior change; and/or nutrition-related systematic review methodology. Members are non-Federal employees who are classified as special government employees (SGEs) for the duration of their appointments. The DGAC selection process provides balanced and diverse membership, representing various ethnicities, ages, genders, and regions of the country to the extent possible. Announcement of member appointments and information on the DGAC members will be available on www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.

Q:How does the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee review current evidence?

A:In addition to other resources, the DGAC will use the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) established by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion to support its systematic review of the current science on nutrition and health. The NEL specializes in conducting systematic reviews to inform Federal nutrition policies and programs. More information on the NEL is available at www.NEL.gov.

Q:What is a Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) systematic review?

A: The NEL systematic review methodology is designed to objectively review, evaluate, and synthesize research to answer important nutrition and health-related questions. NEL uses a six-step approach designed to minimize bias and ensure transparency and reproducibility of the process: 1) Develop research questions, 2) create and implement literature search and sort protocols, 3) develop evidence portfolios (summaries of research findings), 4) synthesize the bodies of evidence, 5) develop conclusion statements and grade the evidence, and 6) describe research recommendations. Complete evidence portfolios from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines revision process are posted at www.NEL.gov. Reviews completed for the 2015 revision process will be posted following the release of the DGAC’s Report.

Q:Why does the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee use a systematic review methodology?

A:Systematic review is considered the state-of-the-art method for objectively synthesizing research findings to support practice, guideline, and policy recommendations. The transparent systematic review method used by the USDA Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) ensures government compliance with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 (Data Quality Act), which mandates that Federal Agencies ensure the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of the information used to form Federal guidance. NEL systematic reviews were a hallmark of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines revision process and will be instrumental in the 2015 revision process.

Q:Can the public attend meetings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee?

A:The DGAC will hold a series of public meetings to review and discuss the scientific evidence to support recommendations. All meetings of the DGAC are open to the public through webcast technology; the first two meetings will also allow attendance in person. Meeting dates, times, locations, and other relevant information will be announced at least 15 days in advance of each meeting via Federal Register Notice. Notices can be accessed directly at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/. Registration and meeting announcements will be posted at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Transcripts, minutes, and archived webcasts of each meeting will also be available at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.

Q: Will the public have an opportunity to give input on the Dietary Guidelines revision process?

A:The public is encouraged to submit comments throughout the Committee’s deliberations. The public will be able to submit comments electronically at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov by clicking on the “submit comments” link. Public comments, once posted, will be viewable by the public by clicking on the “read comments” link. All comments are provided to the members of the DGAC. Information on submitting public comments will also be posted in Federal Register Notices.

Opportunity for public oral testimony will be provided at one DGAC meeting, as well as following submission of the DGAC Report. Details will be published in the Federal Register.

Q: Can the public submit research to be included in the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) systematic reviews?

A: Research published in a peer-reviewed journal by December 31, 2013 would be available to be considered by the 2015 DGAC in a NEL systematic review, although systematic reviews may continue in 2014. The public can inform the DGAC about relevant research by submitting a public comment at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. However, to be included in a NEL systematic review, studies must meet predetermined inclusion criteria developed by the DGAC.

Q: Why are meetings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee provided by webcast?

A:Webcasting provides accessibility and transparency to viewers nationally as well as internationally. During the 2010 DGAC process, meetings were transitioned from in-person only attendance to webcasts. Webcasts increased access to DGAC deliberations to a much larger audience, including attendees from 15 countries. Participants such as students and staff of local health departments, who normally would not be able to travel to the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, were able to observe the webcasts. This eliminated travel time and cost to the public. Attendance for 2010 webcast meetings averaged more than 400 attendees or sites, almost double the participation for 2010 meetings with in-person only attendance. To continue to increase transparency and reach of the process to stakeholders, 2015 DGAC meetings will be webcast, and recordings of the webcasts will be available at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.

Q: How do the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans relate to each other?

A:The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report is a scientific report that presents the recommendations of the independent 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA for use in updating the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The DGAC Report is written for the Federal government as the basis for developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Comments from Federal Agencies and the public are considered in the development of the DGA. The DGA is intended for policymakers, nutrition educators, and health professionals in developing nutrition policy, nutrition education messages, and consumer materials for the general public and for specific audiences, such as children, pregnant women, and older Americans.

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