New Dietary Guidelines Report

Scientific Committee Finds Significant Disruption in Food Security Around the World

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
For the first time the Dietary Guidelines Committee expanded its recommendations to children 12-to-24-months, calling for consumption of nutrient-rich foods, including animal-source foods. (DTN\Progressive Farmer photo by Becky Mills)

Every five years, a long and, one would have to believe, expensive process, ensues where a lengthy list of people with PhDs and MDs behind their names work on a report that will be the foundation for Dietary Guidelines for the next five years.

This year's report is 835 pages. Using all of this data, a new, formal set of Dietary Guidelines is expected to be released next month. For the first time ever, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee expanded recommendations to include children ages 12 to 24 months, and also considered the impact of food insecurity on Americans' health.

Reviewing the Committee's executive summary, the bad news comes early. This is the news we as Americans pretty much ignore. To put it in a nutshell, we are fat (70% overweight or obese) and we are sick (6 in 10 have one chronic condition; 4 in 10 have two or more chronic conditions). Add to this, food insecurity and a lack of access to affordable and heathy food.

Using 2018 data, the Committee reports more than 37 million people (6 million of them children) live in households that were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet their needs. In 2020, is that number higher given the COVID-19 crisis and unemployment figures?

The Committee notes it began work in March 2019, and when it submitted its report the country was in the midst of the pandemic. The group noted this and said that as more is learned about the infection "it is clear that it has significant nutritional implications." Those most at risk for serious outcomes, noted the report, are those afflicted by diet-related chronic diseases.

"Finally, throughout the world, the consequences of physical isolation and financial disruption by the threat of COVID-19 infection has led to significant increases in food insecurity and hunger, furthering increasing susceptibility to both infectious and diet-related chronic disease," noted the Committee's Chair, Barbara Schneeman; and vice chair, Ronald Kleinman.

Some key takeaways from the report with regards to what we should eat and how this might affect chronic illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, follow. These are not yet formal recommendations, but they will likely be the foundation of coming guidelines.


Pregnant women should consume at least 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week, making choices that are lower in methylmercury and higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. Folic acid supplementation was associated with a better "maternal folate status" during pregnancy and reduced risk of hypertensive disorders among women at high risk or with a previous history of these disorders. Some limited evidence suggested supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids could lead to "favorable cognitive development in children".


Nutritional exposures in the first 1,000 days of life contribute to long-term health, but also help shape taste preferences and food choices. Evidence suggested human milk feeding may be related to infant fatty acid status, depending on maternal diet. The Committee supported recommendations for lactating women to consume food sources of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as fish.


For children in this age group the Committee established a recommended food pattern that allowed for a variety of "nutrient-rich, animal-source foods, including meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products, as well as nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and grain products." Again, the Committee "prioritized seafood."


The three, current USDA food patterns -- Healthy Vegetarian, Healthy Mediterranean-Style and the Healthy U.S.-Style -- all continued to represent healthy dietary patterns. The Committee applauded the dietary pattern approach currently in use, noting it "enables multiple adaptations to fit cultural, personal and individual needs and preferences in food choices."


The Committee considered the impact food choice has on disease, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, bone health, cancer and even neurocognitive health.


Diets lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and richer in fiber, potassium and unsaturated fats are beneficial for reducing cardiovascular disease risk.


Moderate evidence indicated diets emphasizing vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; seafood and legumes; moderate in dairy products and alcohol; lower in meats (including red and processed meats), and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, and refined grains are associated with favorable outcomes related to body weight or risk of obesity.


Moderate evidence indicated diets higher in vegetables, fruits and whole grains and lower in red and processed meats, high-fat dairy products, refined grains and sweets/sugar-sweetened beverages reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


Moderate evidence indicated a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and fish, and lower in meats (particularly processed meats), sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets is associated with favorable bone health outcomes in adults, primarily decreased risk of hip fracture.


In this case the committee looked at various types of cancer, including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer. No relationship between diet and risk of prostate cancer was found; evidence was also limited with lung cancer. In the cases of colorectal and breast cancer, a moderate-evidence link found diets higher in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean meats and seafood, and low-fat dairy, and lower in red and processed meats, saturated fat and sugar were positive.


There was limited evidence that diets were associated with lower risk of age-related cognitive impairment and/or dementia.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Danielle Beck, senior executive director of government affairs, commented on the committee's recommendations in response to a DTN/Progressive Farmer request.

She said in an email that NCBA expects to see the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines published mid- to late-December and that, thanks to work by NCBA, the process was "a far more fair and balanced process" when compared to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

Beck said she believed the Committee's 2020 Scientific Report was "focused on sound nutritional science" while it largely maintained recommendations from 2015. She called the new recommendations focused on Birth to 24 Months, encouraging for beef and noted she believed they "recognized beef's overall role as part of a healthy, balanced diet."

Victoria Myers