U.S. Dietary Guidelines Cater to Less Than Half Its Population

©. USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

With 60% of Americans diagnosed with nutrition-related diseases, shouldn't reversing that be the focus?

The United States is gearing up to revise its national dietary guidelines, as it does every five years. A committee has been tasked to review the latest nutritional science and to set the standard that schools, hospitals, care centers, and health care workers rely on to feed Americans.

There's a problem, however. The guidelines only cater to 40 percent of the population. They are designed around healthy individuals, people who are in relatively good shape and want to stave off any potential illnesses. But this fails to reflect America's true nutritional state. Nina Teicholz writes in the Washington Post,

"The 60 percent of our population diagnosed with nutrition-related diseases — obesity, diabetes, dementia — is excluded. On this path, there’s little question that the government’s guidelines will do virtually nothing to reverse the epidemics of these diseases."

More Americans would be helped if the dietary guidelines were geared toward reversing obesity and diabetes, a process that has been shown to be more effective through carbohydrate reduction than caloric restriction. Teicholz argues that a nutritional option should be offered that is "lower in carbohydrates than the existing guideline options, which all stipulate eating 50 to 55 percent of daily calories as carbohydrates."

When a dietary guidelines committee member asked about including a study on weight loss in obese people, the answer was no: "Most included studies are only of populations that are healthy or at risk for obesity; and the guidelines are for 'prevention' only."

This is illogical, or perhaps it reveals a reluctance to acknowledge just how serious this problem is. Teicholz puts it into alarming perspective when she says that nutrition-related diseases kill 4,300 people daily – "the equivalent of nearly 11 jumbo jets crashing and killing every person on board, every day." But the public outrage just isn't there. And even when something could be done about it, such as revising the dietary guidelines to help get more of the population back to a healthier place, the solution is ignored.

In an ideal world, dietary guidelines would be more complex than the outdated one-size-fits-all approach that's currently used. At minimum there would be advice for people wanting to maintain good health, and advice for people needing to get back to good health. But if we had to choose between one or the other, it really should be the citizens suffering from nutrition-related diseases to whom the guidelines cater, as they stand to benefit the most.

Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen.