New dietary guidelines must be sustainable, regardless of politics

October 1, 2015, George Washington University
Credit: Maliz Ong

The new iteration of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) must incorporate sustainability considerations - both for the health and wellbeing of Americans and the world in which we live, urges a new piece appearing in Science Express on Oct. 1.

Co-authored by public health and experts at George Washington (GW) and Tufts universities, the article publishes just days before the U.S. House Agriculture Committee will meet with Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell to discuss the process for developing the DGA. Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, believes the sustainability recommendations from an advisory committee to the DGA "greatly exceeded" the group's scope by commenting on "wider policy issues." The authors disagree, saying nothing in the 1990 DGA statute prevents inclusion of sustainability.

"We believe the issue of scope is not the overarching concern, but a political maneuver to excise sustainability from dietary discussions," they write.

Incorporating sustainability in the DGA has become political for a number of reasons, according to the authors:

  • Industry leaders feel under attack and believe sustainability evaluations may lead to future regulation.
  • Sustainability has the potential to change the current food-group guidance (e.g., fruit, vegetables, protein) to one that focuses on specific foods in food groups (e.g., chicken vs. beef vs. fish).
  • New political coalitions may form that further tip the balance in favor of sustainability, particularly when drafting future dietary guidelines.
  • Sustainability considerations may sanction and elevate the importance of sustainable diets, opening the government up to greater demands for sustainability investments and telling consumers that such foods are preferred.

If included, the impact of changes to the DGA would be far-reaching: Nutrition professionals rely on its guidance and it informs meal content for the military, 8.6 million Women, Infants and Children program participants and 31 million children served through the National School Lunch Program.

Explore further: Guide for healthy eating may consider environment

More information: Designing the sustainable plate, … 1126/science.aab2031

Related Stories

Health care policy should not focus on finance, says research

May 21, 2015

Focusing on finance could jeopardize the long-term survival of our health care systems, according to a study published in Value in Health. The researchers, from Bocconi University, Milan, Italy, urge policy makers to consider ...

Recommended for you

Propping up glaciers to avoid cataclysmic sea level rise

September 20, 2018

As global warming outpaces efforts to tame it, scientists have proposed building massive underwater structures to prevent an Antarctic glacier the size of Britain from sliding into the sea and lifting the world's oceans by ...

NASA balloon mission captures electric blue clouds

September 20, 2018

On the cusp of our atmosphere live a thin group of seasonal electric blue clouds. Forming 50 miles above the poles in summer, these clouds are known as noctilucent clouds or polar mesospheric clouds—PMCs. A recent NASA ...

Study tracks Hurricane Harvey stormwater with GPS

September 20, 2018

Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water on southeast Texas in late August 2017, making it the wettest recorded hurricane in U.S. history. But after the storm passed, where did all that water go?


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2015
Dietary recommendations from the U.S. government have been wrong many times and over a period of many years. From the 1950's until very recently, the U.S. government recommended substituting trans fat for healthy butter. We were encouraged to consume corn syrup. The healthy consumption of eggs was discouraged.

Now we are going to be besieged with demands from the vegetarian PC crowd that we need to stop consuming animal protein because it consumes too many resources to raise animals versus consuming grains directly.

The very best advice is to simply ignore the U.S. government when it makes dietary advice.
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 01, 2015
Humans survived for millions of years with NO govt dietary guidelines.

Dietary guidelines were used to promote all the foods the US govt had to buy on its subsidy programs or were protecting for US farmers.
When coconut oil was in short supply because of the Japanese invasion of SE Asia, the US govt promoted soybean oils and transfat oleomargarine.
And then we discover pork lard and coconut oil and butter are good for humans and the govt promoted trans fats are not.
Anyone who trusts the govt to tell them what to eat deserves their health.
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2015
And everyone knows how much all the little kiddies are loving noted dietary expert Michelle O's yummy arugula-centered school cuisine. Only 60% of the kids stopped eating in the cafeteria, there's a growing black market in potato chips in grades 2-12, and the schools limited their food wasted to several billion dollars a week.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.