Seminar Highlights New Dietary Recommendations
|As chair of the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Feinberg Professor Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, led the development of a set of recommendations provided to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.|
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Professor Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, played an important role in outlining the new dietary guidelines scheduled for release in early 2011 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Van Horn recently led a talk at the medical school in which she reviewed the recommendations made by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of 13 experts of which she served as chair.
“The guidelines are updated every five years and act as science-based advice for Americans ages 2 and over,” said Van Horn, professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and member of the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity (NCCO). “Their counsel helps to prevent chronic disease and promote health.”
Van Horn’s lecture, “Obesity-related Insights from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report,” gave attendees an overview of the recommendations â guidance that was compiled by experts from numerous disciplines who combed through research findings and shared their expertise in order to develop the proposal.
One of the committee’s most surprising findings related to multivitamins. For the general, healthy population, they found no evidence to support the recommended use of supplemental vitamins.
“Folate, for example, triggers increased risk of colon cancer in elderly individuals,” said Van Horn. “And, while the findings surrounding vitamin use are shocking, we could not dispute the data.”
Also new, the committee evaluated data from the perspective that the U.S. is an obese nation — one that under-consumes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk, fiber, and potassium. They found that the presence of local supermarkets is associated with lower body mass index, especially for low-income Americans, while lack of supermarkets and long distances to supermarkets (areas called food deserts) are associated with higher body mass index. The committee also concluded that increased geographic density of fast food restaurants and convenience stores also relates to increased body mass index.
Van Horn and her peers say action must be taken to improve the food environment. They suggest implementing policies that increase the availability of nutrient-dense foods through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets, and providing greater financial incentives to purchase and prepare healthy foods. They also encourage the food industry and individuals to prepare and serve smaller portions of foods low in calories, added sugars, and solid fat.
“The obesity epidemic can be traced to increased caloric intake,” Van Horn said. “With obesity now plaguing more than 30 percent of adult Americans, it’s clear that its treatment and prevention are so important. We have a lot of work to do.”