Press Release

For Immediate Release Contact


Sue Ducat
Director of Communications
(301) 841-9962

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the upcoming Dietary Guidelines for Americans, set for release later this month. The 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to jointly publish these guidelines at least once every five years. They are likely to rely heavily on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which forms the basis for all federal nutritional policies and programs. This brief details the most recent recommendations--changes in sugar, cholesterol, and fat consumption and a new focus on dietary patterns, not particular nutrients--and factors influencing these dietary guidelines.

  • What's the background? While the USDA has been offering nutritional advice for more than 100 years, the first dietary guidelines were not released until 1980. The brief provides a quick history of both the guidelines and the DGAC selection process, and how the committee members determined which questions were addressed in the current report. According to the brief, the committee relied on some 300 studies and received some 30,000 public comments to formulate its recommendations.

  • What's the advice, and what's the debate? "The dietary patterns of the American public are suboptimal and are causally related to poor individual and population health and higher chronic disease rates," this DGAC's 2015 report flatly states. The brief outlines some of the DGAC's recommendations and highlights two problems receiving much recent public attention: the connection of diet to some chronic diseases; and food insecurity, a problem affecting nearly fifty million Americans. Nutritional guidelines affect food-buying decisions worth perhaps trillions of dollars, but because nutritional research is hard to undertake, correct nutritional advice can be hard to formulate. The brief relates recent struggles HHS and the USDA had with the current DGAC report.

  • What's next? The new guidelines are due out later this month, although they may be delayed until early 2016. As the brief explains, congressional appropriations subcommittees have introduced legislation that would limit some of these changes, including the discussion of broader, systematic issues relating to nutrition. However, with Congress currently operating on a continuing resolution, it's uncertain whether these efforts will ever become law.