Jul 31 2015

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans FAQs

Q: What is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy?

A: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines) provides advice for making food and physical activity choices that promote good health, a healthy weight, and help prevent disease for Americans ages 2 years and over, including Americans at increased risk of chronic disease. The recommendations are based on a rigorous review of relevant scientific evidence that occurs through a transparent process. The Dietary Guidelines serves as the cornerstone for all federal nutrition education and program activities.

Q: Why is the Dietary Guidelines important?

A: The Dietary Guidelines forms the basis of federal nutrition policy, education, outreach, and food assistance programs used by consumers, industry, nutrition educators, and health professionals. All federal dietary guidance for the public is required to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, which provides scientific basis for the government to speak in a consistent and uniform manner. The Dietary Guidelines is used in the development of print and web-based educational materials, messages, tools, and programs to communicate healthy eating and physical activity information to the public.

Q: Why does the government create the Dietary Guidelines and when is it updated?

A: The Dietary Guidelines is congressionally mandated under the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (Public Law 101-445, Section 301[7 U.S.C. 5341], Title III). This law requires that the Dietary Guidelines are based on the preponderance of current scientific and medical knowledge, and released by the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) every 5 years. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 is the current federal nutrition policy document. The process for revising the policy for 2015 is currently underway.

Q: How is the Dietary Guidelines policy communicated?

A: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 is the current federal nutrition policy document. The policy document is available online at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Federal agencies, regional and state offices, food assistance programs, food and health organizations, and industry partners, as well as local community educators and advocates communicate messages and implement guidance based on the latest Dietary Guidelines. Resources to help communicate the Dietary Guidelines, including consumer messages, tools, and educational materials, are available at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov, www.DietaryGuidelines.gov, and www.health.gov.

Q: Why is the Dietary Guidelines policy only for ages 2 years and older?

A: Early editions of the Dietary Guidelines acknowledged the unique nutritional needs and eating patterns of infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months of age, which vary widely based on the developmental stages of this age group. For this reason, the Dietary Guidelines has traditionally focused on adults and children 2 years of age and older. However, a separate effort is underway to begin reviewing evidence on nutrition-related topics for Americans from birth to 24 months of age as well as women who are pregnant. This effort will inform the development of dietary guidance for this important age group. Beginning in 2020, the Dietary Guidelines will address Americans of all ages, starting from birth.

Q: How is the Dietary Guidelines policy implemented and which federal programs are impacted?

A: Agencies within HHS and USDA rely on and plan for receiving Dietary Guidelines policy recommendations every 5 years. Agencies use the newest information provided through the Dietary Guidelines to update consumer information and initiatives. Nutrition education is a key part of most programs where the focus is on providing the most accurate and up-to-date recommendations and advice on nutrition, food resource management, and food safety practices. Examples of how the Dietary Guidelines is used by various agencies include:


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) implements Fruits & Veggies—More Matters as a program that provides substantial resources for consumers based on the Dietary Guidelines. CDC also maintains the Healthy Weight website in English and Spanish.
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers some aspects of the Dietary Guidelines in the Nutrition Facts labeling and other nutrition labeling initiatives. FDA’s labeling campaigns, such as Spot the Block and Label Man, as well as curricula such as Science and Our Food Supply and Investigating Food Safety from Farm to Table are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines messages.
  • National Institutes of Health (NIH) produce many consumer initiatives to promote principles of the Dietary Guidelines, such as WeCan!® (a multi-institute collaboration); Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Eating Plan, Portion Distortion, and Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart by National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI); Media-Smart Youth materials by National Institute for Child Health and Human Development; and various professional and consumer fact sheets on vitamins and other nutrients.
  • Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) implements Healthy People 2020, which includes national objectives on nutrition and weight status that provide a mechanism to measure the Nation’s progress toward implementing the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines. ODPHP develops the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) from which key messages are incorporated into the Dietary Guidelines. Eat Healthy, Be Active Community Workshops developed for educators and lay leaders on the community level offers implementation of Dietary Guidelines consumer messages, PAG messages, and USDA’s MyPlate messages and Ten Tips series. Materials are available in English and Spanish.
  • Other HHS offices and agencies, such as the Administration on Community Living (ACL), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Indian Health Service (IHS), and Office on Women’s Health (OWH), have nutrition and health education programs that are based on the Dietary Guidelines and geared toward specific population groups, such as the Older Americans Nutrition Program, Head Start, Bodyworks, and Bright Futures.
  • In USDA
  • Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) nutrition assistance programs use the Dietary Guidelines to calibrate their food benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Additionally, the Dietary Guidelines forms the basis of FNS nutrition education programs.
    • In SNAP, states are awarded funding via a statutory formula to provide evidence based nutrition education and obesity prevention for people in low income households. States are encouraged to implement nutrition education and obesity prevention activities that use a variety of approaches and incorporate policy and systems change interventions, as well as interventions that aim to improve the food environment.
    • The National School Lunch Act requires that school meals reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines. In January 2012, the NSLP and SBP meal pattern requirements were updated to include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy, while limiting unhealthy fats and sodium.
    • The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required USDA to update the CACFP meal patterns and make them more consistent with the most recent version of the Dietary Guidelines. In January 2015, USDA issued a proposed regulation. The CACFP, NSLP, and SBP all share the goals of improving children’s health and ensuring healthy eating habits developed early in life will endure for future generations.
    • The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Action of 2010 also requires USDA to conduct, as often as necessary, but not less than every 10 years, a scientific review of supplemental foods available under the WIC program and to amend the foods, as needed, to reflect nutrition science, public health concerns, and cultural eating patterns. The Dietary Guidelines contributes to the scientific review.
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) implements the DGA through Nutrition Facts labeling and food safety education programs and campaigns.
  • Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) uses the Dietary Guidelines as the nutritional basis for the USDA Food Plans (Thrifty, Low-Cost, Moderate-Cost, and Liberal) used for SNAP allotments, food allowances for the U.S. military, and setting child support and foster care guidelines. The USDA Food Patterns are based on the Dietary Guidelines and serve as the foundation for development of consumer materials including MyPlate educational materials and SuperTracker, an interactive, online dietary assessment and planning tool for consumers. The Healthy Eating Index is a measure of diet quality that assesses conformance to the Dietary Guidelines and is updated based on each new Dietary Guidelines, as appropriate.
  • Other USDA agencies, such as the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Economic Research Service (ERS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), use the Dietary Guidelines to guide decisions on food purchasing, create research grant opportunities, analyze food consumption survey data, and monitor other national initiatives.
  • Q: What is the process for creating the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines?The Committee considers the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and determines topics for which new scientific evidence is available that may inform revisions to existing recommendations or suggest new guidance. The Committee examines the state of scientific evidence using systematic reviews, data analyses, scientific evidence-based reports, and/or food pattern modeling analyses. Additional sources of information include input from expert guest speakers as well as oral and written comments from the public. At the completion of its work, each Committee submits an Advisory Report of its recommendations with rationales to HHS and USDA Secretaries for consideration as the Departments jointly develop the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  • Q: How is the Dietary Guidelines revision process managed?Similarly, each Committee’s process is overseen by four Co-Executive Secretaries, 2 from HHS’s ODPHP and 2 from USDA, one from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), who serves as the lead for USDA, and the other from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The Co-Executive Secretaries manage the activities of the Committee and coordinate and lead the federal staff supporting the Committee’s work.A: The website www.DietaryGuidelines.gov serves as the clearinghouse for information related to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 development process and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s work. Written public comments, public meeting information, background materials, and other public materials related to the Dietary Guidelines process are posted in this central location. A: Public nominations to the Committee were sought in the fall of 2012 in the Federal Register announcement for the establishment of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Expertise was sought in specific specialty areas including cardiovascular disease; type 2 diabetes; overweight and obesity; osteoporosis; cancer; pediatrics; gerontology; maternal/gestational nutrition; epidemiology; general medicine; energy balance, which includes physical activity; nutrient bioavailability; nutrition biochemistry and physiology; food processing science, safety, and technology; public health; nutrition education and behavior change; and/or nutrition-related systematic review methodology.
  • Q: How did the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee review current evidence?Q: What is a Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) systematic review?Q: Why did the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee use a systematic review methodology?Q: In addition to the NEL systematic reviews, why did the 2015 Committee use existing reports?Q: Can the public attend meetings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee?Q: Did the public have opportunities to give input to the Committee during its work? Q: Why were meetings of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee aired by webcast? Q: How do the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy relate to each other?
  • A: Webcasting provides accessibility and transparency to viewers nationally as well as internationally. During the 2010 Committee process, meetings were transitioned from in-person only attendance to webcasts only. Webcasts increased access to Committee deliberations to a much larger audience, including attendees from 15 countries. Participants such as students and staff of local health departments, who normally would not be able to travel to the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, were able to observe the webcasts. This eliminated travel time and cost to the public. Attendance for 2010 webcast meetings averaged more than 400 attendees or sites, almost double the participation for 2010 meetings with in-person only attendance. To continue to increase transparency and reach of the process to stakeholders, 2015 Committee meetings were also webcast for live viewing, and recordings of the webcasts are available at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  • A: The public was encouraged to submit written comments throughout the Committee’s deliberations. Information on submitting public comments was provided in Federal Register notices and public comments were accepted electronically at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. All comments were provided to the members of the Committee and are available for viewing at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Opportunity for public oral testimony was provided at the second Committee meeting.
  • A: The Committee held a series of public meetings to review and discuss the scientific evidence to support recommendations. All meetings of the Committee were open to the public through webcast technology; the first 2 meetings also allowed attendance in person. Meeting dates, times, locations, and other relevant information were announced at least 15 days in advance of each meeting via Federal Register notice. Notices can be accessed directly at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/. Registration and meeting announcements were posted at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Summaries and archived webcast recordings of each meeting are also available at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  • A: The 2015 Committee addressed some questions using existing reports, including reports from national professional organizations such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the American Heart Association (AHA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The Committee also used reports from government agencies. These reports summarize the most current and comprehensive evidence and have been written by a panel of recognized experts in the field. The expert reports specifically address the respective questions and, generally, represent a collective expertise on the topic beyond what was represented on the Committee.
  • A: Systematic review is considered the state-of-the-art method for objectively synthesizing research findings to support practice, guideline, and policy recommendations. The transparent systematic review method used by the USDA Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) ensures government compliance with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 (Data Quality Act), which mandates that federal agencies ensure the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of the information used to form federal guidance. NEL systematic reviews were a hallmark of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines revision process and were instrumental in the 2015 Committee process as well.
  • A: The NEL systematic review methodology is designed to objectively review, evaluate, and synthesize research to answer important nutrition and health-related questions. NEL uses a 6-step approach designed to minimize bias and ensure transparency and reproducibility of the process: 1) Develop research questions, 2) create and implement literature search and sort protocols, 3) develop evidence portfolios (summaries of research findings), 4) synthesize the bodies of evidence, 5) develop conclusion statements and grade the evidence, and 6) describe research recommendations. Complete evidence portfolios from the 2010 and 2015 Committees are posted at www.NEL.gov.
  • A: In addition to other resources, the 2015 Committee used the Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL) established by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion to support its systematic review of the current science on nutrition and health. The NEL specializes in conducting systematic reviews to inform federal nutrition policies and programs. More information on the NEL is available at www.NEL.gov.
  • Former members of the 2015 Committee were non-federal employees who were classified as special government employees (SGEs) for the duration of their appointments. The Committee selection process provides a balanced and diverse membership, representing various ethnicities, ages, genders, and regions of the country to the extent possible. Information about the former 2015 Committee members is available on www.DietaryGuidelines.gov.
  • Q: How were members of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee selected?
  • Q: Where can people find information about the Dietary Guidelines revision process?
  • A: The Dietary Guidelines is jointly developed and published by HHS and USDA every 5 years. Each 5-year cycle, the administrative lead rotates between the Departments. HHS’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) leads the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015 development process, which it carries out in partnership with USDA.
  • During the second stage of the revision process, the HHS and USDA develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy document. The Dietary Guidelines is based on the Committee’s Advisory Report, public comments, and federal agency input.
  • A: In the first stage of the revision process, a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (Committee) is chartered following Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) guidelines. The Committee is composed of nationally recognized experts in the field of human nutrition, medicine, and public health.
  • Revision Process

A: The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is advisory only. This report presents the recommendations of the independent 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to the Secretaries of HHS and USDA for use in updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Advisory Report is written for the federal government as the basis for developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy. Comments from federal agencies and the public are considered in the development of the Dietary Guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines is intended for policymakers, nutrition educators, and health professionals in developing nutrition policy, nutrition education messages, and consumer materials for the general public and for specific audiences, such as children, pregnant women, and older Americans.

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