A couple things to know about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 at 8:31 am

1. The Audience determines the message and the method of communication

A good question to ask yourself when reading anything is who is the intended audience?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) make clear who their intended audience is. The DGA website splash page states

“Intended for policymakers and health professionals, this edition of the Dietary Guidelines…”

In case that isn’t clear, the introduction to the Guidelines reads

“The primary audiences are policymakers, as well as nutrition and health professionals, not the general public.”

Why is this important? (That is to say, why do *I* think this is important?)

This is important because the intended audience determines what information is shared and how it is shared.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms in the popular media complaining that the 2015 DGA aren’t consumer-friendly or that they contain awkward language. But the DGA aren’t intended for the consumer. They’re to be used by professionals to craft consumer messages. That means they are going to say things like “Americans should limit added sugars to less than 10% of total calories” – leaving the “Americans should consume less soda” to those professionals who are creating consumer messages (such as MyPlate – The federal government’s consumer food guidance graphic.)

2. What the media focuses on is not necessarily what the guidelines focus on

What have you heard about the recommendations?

Let me guess: Cholesterol is okay now. Sugar is the bad guy. Women who drink more than one alcoholic drink per day are binge drinkers and unhealthy. Men need to eat less meat.

The media focuses on these items because they’re new (absence of cholesterol restriction, insertion of sugar restriction) or controversial (alcohol and meat intake in general). They make good stories.

But to focus on the new and the controversial misses the bulk of what the guidelines recommend: Americans need to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and need to consume fewer empty calories.

Does that feel boring? I’ll bet it does. You already knew that you were supposed to do that. But the reality remains that Americans are NOT doing that – and that those dietary changes (regardless of your views on the new or controversial stuff in the recommendations) are what is most important for improving the dietary quality of Americans.

If the message you got from the news coverage of the guidelines was “cholesterol is no longer the bad guy, sugar is”, you got the wrong message. If your application is to go out and eat a much beef, pork, and eggs as you can while eschewing everything with “sugar” on its nutrition facts panel, you’ve made the wrong application. But I fear that is the sort of messages people are going to be getting from the media coverage of the guidelines.


Reader Comments (2):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    Just wanted to let you know I tagged you in a bookish meme today here: https://barbarah.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/bookish-questions/. Hope all is going well with you. I imagine things are incredibly busy with the move and pregnancy and a toddler. Hope Tirzah Mar is adjusting well to the new place.

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