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WASHINGTON -- Industry trade groups said yesterday they were pleased for the most part with the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommendations for healthier eating that have been widely anticipated by the food industry in light of the attention placed on the country's obesity epidemic in the last several years.
The new guidelines, released yesterday by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, urge consumers to reduce calorie consumption and increase physical activity. They call for increased consumption of fruits and vegetables (up to 13 servings per day), as well as more whole grains (at least three servings a day), while discouraging intake of trans fats and saturated fats.
According to the HHS, almost two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and more than half get too little physical activity. The 2005 guidelines are the sixth edition of a series of wide-ranging reviews required every five years by federal law.
Food trade groups offered commentary on major elements of the guidelines as they were issued. "We share the government's concern about the quantity of saturated and trans fats in the average American diet," said the Grocery Manufacturers of America in a statement released yesterday. "In fact, over the past two years, GMA member companies have reduced or eliminated trans fat in countless products. GMA member companies are committed to further reducing trans fat in the food supply and will continue to improve the total fat profile of their products."
Of particular significance is the new guidelines' increased emphasis on the importance of grains in a balanced diet.
Boston-based Oldways Preservation Trust, which represents the Whole Grains Council, said: "These new guidelines officially launch an exciting age for whole grains. Specific recommendations for eating more whole grains foods are a longtime dream of health experts and scientists."
An article published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal predicted that the new guidelines could "rock the world of baked goods" with the recommendation on whole grains.
Produce advocates also applauded the guides' emphasis on fruits and vegetables. "The guidelines make it clear that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can fight obesity and help people lead longer, healthier lives," noted Elizabeth Pivonka, president of Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation.
United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association president Tom Stenzel told Progressive Grocer that he was pleased with the substance of the guidelines, but stressed that they mean little unless "the government gets behind them."
According to Stenzel, the government needs "to help consumers make better choices." One important way it could do that, he said, is by making sure its school lunch, WIC, food stamps, and other nutritional programs comply with the guidelines. As an incentive, the UFFVA has been talking with congressional leaders about the possibility of giving bonus coupons to food stamp recipients who choose fresh fruit, he said.
Supermarkets can play a more proactive part, as well, Stenzel suggested, by revising health and nutrition programs to reflect the guidelines; expanding the produce department in inventive ways, such as by offering produce snacks at a checkout lane rather than candy; developing marketing and merchandising strategies; adding more fruits and vegetables to their prepared meal selections; and providing health information at the point of sale.
Not so long ago, he recounted, fast-food restaurants wouldn’t sell salads because it was thought that consumers wouldn't eat them, but now healthier foods have become staples at such eateries, even McDonald's. This progression shows a gradual shift in consumers’ thinking about food, said Stenzel, a shift that will doubtless be accelerated by the release of the new guidelines. "The trend is there," he observes. "We just want to push it."
A few commodity groups were slightly critical of the guidelines. The Sugar Association, for instance, said in a statement it was disappointed that the guidelines chose to continue the recommendation to limit added sugars, claiming that stance was contrary to Secretary Thompson’s emphasis on the scientific basis of the 2005 guidelines praise for.
"We stand firm in our assertion that every major scientific review, including the Institute of Medicine's macronutrient report, has concluded that there is not a direct link between added sugars intake and any lifestyle disease, including obesity," said Andy Briscoe, president and c.e.o. of the Sugar Association. "For the guidelines to infer any type of limit on added sugars is not science-based."
The updated guidelines will be used to determine the content of the national school-lunch program and other federal food programs. In addition, the Agriculture Department is redesigning the nation’s current food "pyramid" guide in tandem with the new guidelines. A new guide is due out in February.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines and consumer brochure are available at www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.