In 1979, the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released to provide recommendations to Americans about the link between food choices and chronic diseases. The Guidelines are updated every five years using new research to translate key nutrition findings into broad dietary statements. In February, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released their recommendations for the next iteration of these guidelines. Nutrition educators need to be part of the national dialogue by reading the document (although it is over 570 pages!), submitting public comment (via the website), discussing these guidelines with colleagues, or using the final guidelines as the foundation for designing evidence-based nutrition education programs or messages.
The work of the committee was guided by two realities:
- About 117 million individuals (about ½ of US adults) have one or more preventable chronic diseases
- Individual nutrition and physical activity behaviors are strongly influenced by personal, social, organizational, and environmental contexts (Social Ecological Model)
Common Characteristics of Healthy Diets
A diet plan rich in:
- Whole grains
- Low-or non- fat dairy
- Legumes and nuts
- Moderate alcohol (adults)
And a diet plan with less of:
- Red and processed meats
- Sugar-sweetened foods and drinks
- Refined grains
- Sodium-rich foods
At first glance you might say that nothing has changed, however, a careful review of the document will reveal what has changed. This national report is a call to action to individuals, families, communities, industry, and government for a paradigm shift to make population health a national priority. Building on the Affordable Care Act that prioritizes disease prevention and health promotion, this report extends the importance of addressing multiple levels of influence to change food behaviors leading to a reduction in chronic conditions. The field of nutrition education has an opportunity to be involved with each level of change – educating individuals, conducting nutrition education programs for schools, worksites, or communities, promoting the consumption of local foods, or advocating for policy changes at the local, state, or national levels – and these are just a few of the ways you can use your nutrition education degree to be part of the solution.
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About the Author
Dr. Anastasia Snelling is a professor and the Associate Dean in the School of Education, Teaching, and Health at American University. She has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a registered dietitian for over thirty years and a fellow in the American College of Nutrition. Dr. Snelling teaches courses including nutrition, health promotion, and health communication. Her research focuses on methods of behavior change in nutrition education to manage risk factors related to chronic disease. Specifically, Dr. Snelling aims to understand the impact of food policy and programs on weight status of students and teachers in the school environment. Dr. Snelling holds a PhD in Counseling and Development and an MS in Health Fitness Management from American University in Washington, D.C., along with a BS in Clinical Dietetics from the University of Connecticut.
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