Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced on June 15 that public comments will be accepted through July 15 on the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. The advisory committee delivered its report to the secretaries on May 28. Its recommendations and the public comments relating to them will provide the foundation for the departments to develop and issue the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans later this year.

Linda V. Van Horn, the chair of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, stated in a letter to Secretaries Vilsack and Sebellius accompanying the report, “The single most sobering aspect of this report is the recognition that we are addressing an overweight and obese American population. Across all age, gender and ethnic groups, it is clear that urgent and systems-wide efforts are needed to address America’s obesity epidemic as top priority.”

The committee added, “The American environment is conducive to this epidemic, presenting temptation to the populace in the form of tasty, energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods and beverages. The macronutrient distribution of a person’s diet is not the driving force behind the current obesity epidemic. Rather, it is the overconsumption of total calories coupled with very low physical activity and too much sedentary time.”

First published in 1980, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are mandated by Congress to be reviewed, updated and released by the U.S.D.A. and the H.H.S. every five years. They contain the latest, science-based nutritional and dietary guidance for the general public. They are the foundation for federal nutrition education and promotion programs, as well as the basis for the federal food assistance programs.

The 13-member advisory committee said Americans require a lifestyle approach to good health, including increased physical activity and a diet that is energy balanced and nutrient dense.

“Americans are encouraged to lower overall energy intakes to match their energy needs,” the committee said.

Addressing Americans’ eating habits in particular, the committee warned, “Now, as in the past, a disconnect exists between dietary recommendations and what Americans actually consume. On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products and seafood, and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains and sodium.”

The committee urged the shifting of food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. In addition, the committee advocated an increase in the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and only moderate consumption of lean meats, poultry and eggs. It said Americans must significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. In addition, it said Americans must reduce sodium intake and lower the intake of refined grains, especially refined grains that are combined with added sugar, solid fats and sodium.

Too many calories, about 35% of all calories, come from foods high in solid fats and added sugars, the committee said, recommending Americans should reduce intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars by 20% to 30%.

“This means no more than 5% to 15% of total calories should be derived from solid fats and added sugars,” the committee said. “Reduction of calories from solid fats and added sugars to these amounts allows for increased intakes of nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables (including cooked dry beans and peas), fruits, whole grains and fat-free and low-fat fluid milk and milk products, without exceeding overall calorie needs.”

With regard to sodium, the panel echoed recent recommendations of the Institute of Medicine for a ratcheting down in Americans’ sodium consumption.

“In 2005, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended a daily sodium intake of less than 2,300 mgs for the general adult population and stated that hypertensive individuals, blacks, and middle-age and older adults would benefit from reducing their sodium intake even further to 1,500 mgs per day,” the committee said. “Because these latter groups together now comprise nearly 70% of U.S. adults, the goal should be 1,500 mgs per day for the general population.”

Also advised was the limiting of saturated fatty acid intake to less than 7% of total calories by substituting food sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. As in the case of sodium, the committee suggested interim steps toward achieving that goal. The committee

said dietary cholesterol should be limited to less than 300 mgs per day with the aim at further reductions to less than 200 mgs per day for persons with or at high risk for cardiovascular disease or type-2 diabetes. It said trans fatty acids from industrial sources should be avoided, and it recommended two 4-oz servings of seafood a week to provide healthful Omega-3 fatty acids.

Calories from fat were recommended to be in the range of 20% to 35% of total calories but should be derived mostly from oils within a nutrient-rich, energy-balanced dietary pattern.

With regard to carbohydrates, the committee said, “Sedentary people, including most Americans, should decrease consumption of energy-dense carbohydrates, especially refined, sugar-dense sources, to balance energy needs and attain and maintain ideal weight. Americans should choose fiber-rich carbohydrate foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and cooked dry beans and peas as staples in the diet. Low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products are also nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates in the diet and provide high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals.”

The report said there must be a focus on the needs of children and youth in improving diet and reducing overweight and obesity, and it urged the departments and government in general as well as the food industry and all other sectors to work together to encourage Americans to purchase and prepare more healthful foods and increase their physical activity.