It’s been another five years since the last Dietary Guidelines for Americans were published and the new ones tout guidance for infants and toddlers for the first time since its first edition in 1985. More than never there is talk about whether there is enough cultural inclusivity when it comes to these recommendations. In the US there are regional roots in cuisine preference from “Meat and Potatoes” to “Soul Food”. And demographics are shifting to include a rise in first- and second-generation Americans of individuals born outside of the US by 53% and 23% respectively between 1998 and 2013. You are more likely to belong to a group that asks itself “Do the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans speak to me?” With 74% of American adults overweight or obese, 46% living with high blood pressure, 35% with prediabetes and on the brink of joining the 11% with type 2 diabetes while only 60% of all American adults at a point in time follow a healthy eating pattern more work is needed to make sure Dietary Guidelines speak to ALL Americans. I would be remiss to not mention on the topic of chronic disease prevention factors like stress, socioeconomic factors, lifestyle (sleep, smoking, etc.), and to a lesser degree genetics that are also driving these numbers. According to Pew Research of the 44 million U.S. immigrants in 2016:
· Mexico is the top origin country of the U.S. immigrant population (25%). The next largest origin groups were those from China (6%), India (6%), the Philippines (4%) and El Salvador (3%).
· By region of birth, immigrants from Asia combined accounted for 28% of all immigrants. Other regions make up smaller shares: Europe, Canada and other North America (13%), the Caribbean (10%), Central America (8%), South America (7%), the Middle East and North Africa (4%) and sub-Saharan Africa (5%)
Yet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 Scientific Advisory Committee does not reflect this or the minority population in the US.
What are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025?
Do you look at the nutrition label when grocery shopping? Do your kids participate in the National School Lunch program? Do you participate in SNAP? Did you get a head start with the Head Start program? If you said yes to any of these then the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has had an influence on your food choices. These guidelines inform federal food and nutrition policy and national food assistance programming on nutritional and dietary recommendations. State and local governments as well as media and food industry turn to these guidelines as well. The goal of which is to provide guidance to policymakers and nutrition and health professionals in helping all Americans consume a healthy, nutritionally adequate diet that promotes health and prevents disease.
Make Every Bite Count
The guidelines for 2020-2025 are divided into six chapters that provide food and nutrition guidance throughout the lifespan starting with infants and toddlers. The running theme throughout each chapter is to make every bite count by:
1. Following a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage. Research summarized in a report by the scientific advisory committee is meant to represent recommendations for all Americans.
2. Customize and enjoy nutrient dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
3. Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient dense foods and beverages and stay within calorie limits .
A consumer tool known as “MyPlate” is meant to distill this report into a way that is user friendly and personalized to meet your needs.
The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 has expanded guidance to include recommendations for infants and toddlers for the first time. A grand total of two out of the 149 pages of text is dedicated to the importance of customizing recommendations to cultural preferences. It’s a start but a lot more work needs to be done to truly make these guidelines speak to the array of sub-cultures that make up the American fabric. First, a robust nutrition database that already includes recipes that more representative of this is needed. Last spring my daughters’ virtual class had a unit on the continents of the world and one lesson highlighted food from East Africa. I watched as a beaming smile filled her face hearing about Malawi and Uganda for the first time outside of her home entirely accepted by her peers. I don’t think this was a coincidence by her teacher. The class learned to make an East African staple “Chapati” a type of flat bread. Now every week she is eager to help me prepare a healthier version of it when it shows up on our weekly menu. Check out the recipe here.
The scientific advisory committees that make up the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and similar projects need to be more representative of the communities to ensure the needs of even the most vulnerable are being met in nutrition and health policy as well as food assistance program development.
On the heals of Black History Month check out these links to wholesome recipes as well as resources from a few of the Black and African American sub-cultures that make up the American fabric: