Marion Nestle thinks the new U.S. dietary guidelines might be on to something

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The initial advisory report has a surprisingly 'non-industry' tone, but whether it can maintain that tone over the next few months remains to be seen.

By fall of this year, the United States should have a new set of food guidelines. The initial part of the process has already begun, and last week a 600-page document was released by the scientific panel responsible for making recommendations for what those guidelines should include. Next comes the consideration of citizens’ comments and lobbying groups and the actual writing of the guidelines.

Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University, is very knowledgeable about “food politics” – how the food industry and powerful lobbying groups have more influence over what Americans eat than science does – and has written a book by the same name. Vox writer Julia Belluz interviewed Nestle for an article called “Marion Nestle on what really influences eating in America.” Several interesting points arose from that conversation that I wanted to share.

First, Nestle is quite hopeful about the non-industry tone of these particularly recommendations. Of course, this could change once the lobbying groups have their say, but that is why it’s more important than ever for people to submit comments and show support for this approach. (You can do so here.) As fellow TreeHugger Margaret Badore mentioned earlier this week, it’s the first time that the U.S. dietary guidelines may include environmental concerns, although the North American Meat Institute isn’t too happy about that.

Second, food guidelines don’t have to be overly complicated. Nestle cites the new Brazilian guidelines, which I wrote about here when they were released last year. It’s entirely possible to have an easy-to-follow, clearly written or pictured guide that reflects a truly healthy diet. The American guidelines, by contrast, are notoriously confusing and vague because, as Nestle tells Vox, America has a “food industry opposition and a Congress that is friendlier to corporations than it is to public health.”

Third, these guidelines may be political, but they do affect consumer behavior. Although they are geared more toward policymakers and professionals, there is a trickle-down effect from the policies that are made based on the new guidelines, and most people who operate within the public sphere, whether it’s in schools, daycares, or hospitals, will be affected.

“If the guidelines say ‘drink less soda’ and ‘eat less meat,’ the message will be clear and could have a big effect on behavior.”

Whether they do remains to be seen. America only gets the chance to revamp its food guidelines once every five years, and as much of the nation currently struggles with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems, now would be the perfect opportunity to make a stand in the name of public health, rather than corporate wellbeing.

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