The federal government is expected to appoint a new Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee soon. The committee's appointment and first meeting were originally expected (.pdf) before the end of September.
Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) collaborate on a revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, based in part on a summary of the scientific evidence on nutrition and health prepared by an external advisory committee. The next edition is 2010.
It is important that a high-caliber and impartial committee be appointed, because each sector of the food industry generally expresses intense interest in having the federal government endorse particular messages -- or refrain from particular messages -- that affect commercial interests.
My first suggestion would be to simplify. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines were more complex than earlier editions, focusing more on nutrients than widely recognized foods. The 2010 edition could make recommendations in plain English about real foods. Alongside any recommendation about a nutrient, the Guidelines should immediately explain the leading food sources of that nutrient. For example, saturated fat comes predominantly from meat, butter, and cheese, and to a lesser extent from vegetable oils.
My second suggestion would be to explain more specifically what messages are inconsistent with the Dietary Guidelines. For example, at a cost of several hundred million dollars per year collected from producers under federal authority, the federal government endorses industry-run checkoff advertising programs that encourage increased consumption of meat, butter, and cheese. The Guidelines should be sufficiently clear so that an independent observer could tell which advertising campaigns are consistent with the Guidelines.
My third suggestion is that the Guidelines specifically address the most common misleading nutrition messages used in advertising and marketing. For example, they should plainly comment on fad weight loss diets and misleading claims for particular micronutrients.
My fourth suggestion is that the Guidelines strongly endorse home cooking. Many chain restaurants have been reluctant to provide clear nutrition information at the point of sale, except when forced to do so. Even when nutrition facts are provided, I think we all eat high-calorie and unhealthy foods in restaurants that we would never have cooked for ourselves or prepared for a loved one at home.
You will have an opportunity for input on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines this Fall, but why not get the conversation started now? What are your suggestions for the revised Guidelines? What are your criteria for the independence and qualifications of the advisory committee?