The following is a statement from Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to members of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and the USDA Co-Executive Secretary. It responds to their invitation to comment on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which will inform the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) thanks the United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) for the opportunity to provide comments on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which will inform the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The DGAC’s conclusions and policy recommendations are informed by solid scientific evidence, address critical diet-related public health issues, and are consistent with a number of efforts RWJF has undertaken over the past decade to encourage healthy eating to help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.
Earlier this year, RWJF committed $500 million over the next 10 years to expand our efforts to help all children grow up at a healthy weight. Building on a previous $500 million commitment we made in 2007, we will have dedicated more than $1 billion toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. We doubled our commitment because we are heartened by the progress this country has made in recent years—the national childhood obesity rate has stabilized, and several states and cities have even reported declines. But rates remain too high overall, and more work remains to be done.
We share the DGAC’s vision of a nationwide “Culture of Health,” which includes ensuring that the healthy food choice is the easy, affordable choice in every community. As USDA and HHS proceed toward finalizing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, RWJF offers the following comments on the DGAC report.
We strongly support the DGAC’s focus on the broad range of factors, including policy and environmental approaches that influence people’s diet and weight-related behaviors. RWJF’s evidence-based policy priorities for reducing the childhood obesity epidemic include healthier school meals and greater access to healthy and affordable foods in underserved communities. For example, research from Bridging the Gap, a RWJF-funded national research program, has found that healthier school meals can help improve kids’ diets and may help reduce obesity among kids at highest risk. The final Dietary Guidelines should continue to reflect these types of sensible and science-based changes to our food environment and public policies to help Americans make healthier food and beverage choices throughout their lives.
We support the DGAC’s inclusion of “achieving and maintaining healthy weight” in its recommendations. The DGAC recognizes that one in three children in the United States is overweight or obese and that more than 117 million adults have at least one preventable, obesity-related chronic disease, such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes or certain cancers. As the DGAC understands, there is a strong and growing body of evidence linking obesity with eating unhealthy food and physical inactivity.
We support the DGAC’s recommendation to reduce consumption of added sugars. RWJF has long supported updated nutrition standards for school foods and snacks established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, provisions of which have significantly reduced foods and beverages with added sugars in our nation’s schools. We have also endorsed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to include a line for added sugars—in a way that is understood by consumers—on the updated Nutrition Facts panel. One of our priorities over the next decade will be working to ensure that children under the age of five do not consume sugar-sweetened beverages.
Given statistics showing that, on any given day, one half of the U.S. population consumes at least one sugary drink and 25 percent of the population consumes more than one, Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, convened a national panel of experts to develop Recommendations for Healthy Beverages, to come up with age-based recommendations. The panel concluded that healthy beverage choices should consist primarily of water; appropriate amounts of unflavored nonfat and low-fat milk, and comparable soy beverages; and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice in limited quantities (if provided at all). With respect to sugar-sweetened beverages, the panel asserted that “the reduction or elimination of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption has great potential to help Americans reduce caloric intake, improve diet quality, and reduce their risk for obesity.”
We support the DGAC recommendation to promote water as the primary beverage of choice. The availability of free drinking water for all students in locations where meals are served is a core component of the updated nutrition standards for school meals. We strongly support public education and policy changes to drive consumer demand to ensure safe and clean water is easily accessible and encouraged. As the Recommendations for Healthy Beverages panel concluded, “Water provides a healthy, low-cost, zero-calorie beverage option, and water consumption is associated with a number of health benefits ... water should be available and promoted in all settings where beverages are offered.”
We support the DGAC’s contention that additional measures are needed to encourage consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutrient-rich foods as part of an overall healthy diet. RWJF is committed to making healthy foods and beverages the affordable, available, and desired choice in every community. This work is especially important in food deserts, where grocery stores and other food retail establishments that sell healthy items are few and far between. For years, RWJF has worked with The Food Trust and other partners in support of efforts to place healthier food and beverage options in corner stores and bring full-service grocery stores back to low-income communities. Making healthy choices more available and affordable must be accompanied by providing people with accurate, helpful information about those choices. We encourage USDA and HHS to provide clear recommendations to help people translate dietary advice into healthier consumption patterns.
We support the DGAC’s recommendation of regular physical activity for all Americans. Experts recommend at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily, but approximately three-quarters of children ages 6-15 fail to meet that standard. An RWJF-funded research synthesis from Active Living Research shows that regular physical activity among students improves not only health but also academic performance. Given the low physical activity rates in this country, we urge USDA and HHS to address the importance of physical activity in the next Dietary Guidelines as a complement to healthy eating priorities. It is important that messaging accompany the adoption of physical activity recommendations to increase population-level activity across the lifespan—especially for children.
Achieving a Culture of Health in America is a responsibility we all share. Policymakers, parents, consumers, educators, philanthropic organizations, health care professionals and industry leaders all have a role to play in accomplishing this mission. RWJF commends the DGAC, USDA and HHS for helping to lead the way. Federal nutrition programs reach one in four Americans directly; consequently, it is critical that strong, consistent and evidence-based dietary guidelines inform all such programs to help children achieve a healthy weight.