From Our 2010 Archives

Proposed Dietary Guidelines Take Aim at Obesity

Slashing Salt and Fat, Increasing Vegetables and Exercise Recommended

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

June 15, 2010 -- By encouraging Americans to slash their salt intake, eat a plant-based diet, and increase physical activity, the newly proposed 2010 Dietary Guidelines take aim at the obesity epidemic.

As it stands, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and obesity is "the single greatest threat to public health in this century," according to the report, which was developed by a 13-member board of scientists and nutritionists and is open to a one-month public comment period.

The dietary guidelines are updated every five years and issued by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The final report is slated to be released later this year.

Specifically, the newly proposed guidelines suggest reducing sodium intake from 2,300 milligrams to 1,500 milligrams per day and stress a vegetarian-style diet rich in vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds with only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.

The guidelines also call for cutting back on sugary sodas and beverages and eating less saturated fat. As to what Americans should eat more of, the guidelines suggest seafood and low-fat dairy products.

Also recommended is physical activity. The guidelines recommend at least 2 and 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity or 1 and 1/4 hours of a vigorous-intensity activity each week for adults. An hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous physical activity each day is optimal for children and teens.

The guidelines also encourage enhanced nutrition education, efforts to motivate families to cook more healthfully, and improved access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

"We have had the same dietary recommendations for 30 years and every year, we update the science but our diets are the same," says Margo G. Wootan, PhD, the nutrition policy director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group based in Washington, D.C.

Now "we look beyond wagging fingers and saying 'eat more fruits and vegetables' and look at barriers and call for a national strategy to help people follow the recommendations," she says.

"We need a fundamental shift in the food environment," she tells WebMD. "The majority of choices at restaurants are unhealthy, but it needs to be the opposite where the majority of choices are healthy and there are a couple of splurge options for special occasions," she says.

As far as salt goes, the newly suggested reductions are possible, but they won't happen overnight. "We need time for product reformulations, and this also gives people time to change their taste for sodium," she says. "The problem is not the salt shaker, it is the food manufacturers and restaurants."

SOURCES: News release, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010."

Margo G. Wootan, PhD, nutrition policy director, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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