USDA Dietary Guidelines Ignore Expert Advice to Cut Back on Sugar and Alcohol

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have issued their new dietary guidelines for 2020-2025.

But they’re missing some important expert guidance:

Reducing sugar and alcohol intake.

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, made up of 20 expert scientists, advised that the USDA and HHS reduce suggested sugar intake be lowered from 10% to 6% of daily calories and that daily alcohol intake for men be reduced from two to one drink a day. Thousands of people, including many Salud America! members, spoke up in agreement over the past few years, pushing for these and other strong nutritional guidelines.

Despite expert advice that these sugar and alcohol restrictions would help fight obesity and other health disparities, the federal government has left this out of the guidelines.

Let’s explore what is included in the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines, how they affect Latinos, and how we can keep fighting for healthy nutrition.

What Are the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

The USDA and HHS have released a “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” report since 1980.

“The [report] forms the basis for federal nutrition programs such as the National School Lunch Program and military rations. It also determines the government’s ‘MyPlate’ nutrition guide – a graphic depicting a place setting with a plate and glass divided into five food groups, which replaced the food pyramid in 2011,” reports Grace Hauck, according to USA TODAY.

Every five years, the agency updates the guidelines to reflect the latest nutrition science and scientific research.

The guidelines are a model for how Americans can eat healthy.

“The dietary guidelines use current diet and health science to provide recommendations for choosing foods and beverages that make up a healthy eating pattern. In other words, it’s a guideline for what and how much to eat to achieve a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases,” said dietitian Natalie Rizzo, according to Yahoo!

The guidelines typically advise eating nutrient-dense foods, a variety of food groups with an emphasis on vegetables, and limiting sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.

However, this latest release of the dietary guidelines is different in a few ways.

On the positive side, this is the first edition of the dietary guidelines to include recommendations on how parents should feed infants and toddlers.

“The 2020 edition of the guidelines is the first to include recommendations for infants and toddlers and advises feeding only breast milk for at least six months and giving no added sugar to children younger than 2,” reports Hauck, according to USA TODAY.

It also includes food safety recommendations for pregnant women.

“Some eating behaviors, such as consuming raw, undercooked, or unpasteurized food products, increase the risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Populations at increased risk of foodborne illness, or those preparing food for them, should use extra caution. These include women who are pregnant, young children, and older adults. Individuals with weakened immune systems are also at increased risk for foodborne illness,” according to the dietary guidelines.

The dietary guidelines also emphasize the importance of “making every bite count.”

“The aim is to encourage people to focus on choosing healthy foods and beverages that are rich in nutrients, while staying within their calorie limits. That’s why making food and beverage choices that are rich in nutrients should be your first choice, and shifting the mentality from ‘taking away bad foods’ to ‘including more nutrient-dense foods’ may help people make this change,” reports Toby Amidor, according to Shape Magazine.

But public health leaders were disappointed to see that the guidelines ignored expert advice from the Advisory Committee on reducing the allowed sugar and alcohol consumption.

Despite arguments that lowering the recommended sugar and alcohol consumption could help with fighting obesity and other chronic illnesses, the USDA and HHS kept the old guidelines of 10% added sugar and 2 daily alcoholic drinks.

Across the board, scientists, doctors and lawmakers have argued the guidelines are based on industry influence rather than scientific evidence.

“Problems can arise when industry groups … attempt to directly influence federal agencies or members of Congress, either through lobbying or unofficial meetings that may not be documented,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

This allows for giant corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to push back against restricting sugar intake.

Unfortunately, when nutritional science and research gets pushed aside, it will have consequences for real people and their health.

How Does this Affect Latinos?

When nutrition guidelines are not backed with the latest scientific research, it can lead to overconsumption of unhealthy foods.

Latinos and other people of color may be hurt more than others.

Latino kids tend to consume more sugary drinks than the average child, according to a Salud America! research review.

Sugary drink manufacturers continue to disproportionately target Latino and Black youth with sugar-infused advertising, according to a report by Sugary Drink FACTS 2020.

According to the new report:

  • Black teens saw 2.3 times as many ads on TV for sugary drinks as white teens. Most of these television ads consisted of ads for regular sodas, energy drinks and sports drinks.
  • Even as fewer Latino preschoolers and children watch Spanish-language TV, Latino preschoolers viewed 13% more Spanish-language TV ads for regular soda/soda brands in 2018 than in 2013 (38 vs. 33 ads viewed), and Latino children viewed 25% more ads (32 vs. 26).

“Our findings demonstrate that beverage companies continue to target their advertising to Black and Hispanic communities, which exacerbates ongoing health disparities affecting those communities,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Harris, lead study author and senior research advisor at the Rudd Center.

For Latinos, unhealthy eating often is a product of the surrounding environment.

Latinos are more likely to live in food swamps, or areas with too many unhealthy fast food options and a lack of grocery stores with healthier options, according to a Salud America! research review. This can lead to over-consumption of unhealthy food and higher rates of obesity and disease among Latino children and adults.

The obesity rate continues to be significantly higher for Latino (20.7%) and Black children (22.9%) than for white children (11.7%) ages 10-17, according to the recent State of Childhood Obesity report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Obesity is also associated with a higher risk of developing COVID-19, which has disproportionately hurt the Latino community.

How Does Salud America! Raise Awareness about Dietary Guidelines?

We want to make a difference in advocating for healthy lifestyles and nutrition.

That’s why we help spread the word when guidelines like these are up for debate and federal agencies want to hear public comments.

We shared the draft earlier last summer when it was available for public comment.

We were excited to see that over 38,000 people—including over 800 Salud America! members—submitted public comments for better nutrition and limited added sugars for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Another 55,000 people, again including many Salud America! members, also submitted comments in an earlier round.

We’ve launched several campaigns to encourage people to speak up for nutrition guidelines in the last few years as the USDA and HHS has worked on the latest dietary guidelines.

Public comments remain a critical component of these and other federal guidelines.

“Comments can raise the profile of an issue, help affected communities speak up, and show policymakers that their proposal is broadly unpopular,” according to The Center for Law and Social Policy. “A high quantity and high quality of comments can also delay publication of a final rule. That’s because the administration is legally required to read and consider every unique comment submitted.”

Now that the latest guidelines are released, the work doesn’t stop.

We have to keep advocating for healthy lifestyles and neighborhoods for Latino communities and all communities.

If you’re interested in addressing food insecurity issues in your community, download a Health Equity Report Card by Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio.

You can use the report card to see how many people are living with inequitable access to food. Then you can email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders, share it on social media, and advocate for adding healthy food options in high-risk areas!


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