Dietary guidelines are nutritional advice for Americans provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Every five years, these agencies release a new set of guidelines concerning which foods decrease chance of disease and benefit personal health. Government-sponsored diet and exercise educational programs use these guidelines as their main source to determine the focus of their programs.
All Americans over two years of age can use the dietary guidelines. They are specifically intended for an American audience due to the country’s high rate of obesity, which is thought to be caused by an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. These guidelines are also the basis for the nutritional information on food packaging, which shows what percentages of fat, calories, and other nutrients a particular food contains. They not only outline the recommended calorie, fat, and cholesterol intake for American age groups, they also relate the specific risks of disease that come with not following the guidelines. These diseases include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
The guidelines also serve as a way of reporting new or continuing concerns researchers have found with the American diet. This can include findings on what key nutrients they found to be lacking, such as calcium, fiber, and potassium. They also break down nutritional deficiencies found in specific age and other population groups, and gives recommendations on how to add the proper vitamins and nutrients into their diets.
Generally, dietary guidelines are not published for the average American to read. Instead, they are intended for federal policymakers, nutritionists, and medical professionals as a scientific basis to use for educating the public. The federal government uses them to decide which issues to focus on in nutritional education programs in schools, or to enact nutrition-based legislation. For example, the government used these guidelines to decide that the food must contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving to be advertised as low-fat.
Nutritionists and medical professionals use the dietary guidelines to give proper advice on diet and nutrition to their patients. These guidelines are used as a way of keeping all health professionals on the same track on what constitutes a healthy diet so that Americans don’t get conflicting health information. They also provide updated research to use as basis for diet recommendations to patients because the guidelines are subject to change every five years.