Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015: Situation and Opportunities for Beef

by Shalene McNeill, Executive Director, Nutrition Research, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff

Summary
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) are updated every five years, and the process to develop the 2015 DGA is now underway. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which is comprised of 14 leading nutrition researchers, is now analyzing the latest evidence before they release their report in late 2014. A public comment period will follow the release of the DGAC report, and the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) will then release the consumer-facing Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015, by the end of 2015.

Background
The DGA provides evidence-based nutrition guidance for Americans 2 years of age and older, to help promote overall health, reduce the risk of chronic disease, and reduce the prevalence of overweight and obesity. While many consumers may not be aware of the DGA, these recommendations set the precedent for numerous far-reaching and influential nutrition guidance efforts. They are the foundation for national nutrition policy that influences all federal government nutrition assistance, education and labeling programs, including those at 20 federal agencies such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program; Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and Meals on Wheels programs. In addition, the DGA inform dietary recommendations promoted through U.S. health voluntary organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as international groups. Finally, the DGA identifies research gaps and establishes research agendas for federal agencies and organizations, and they serve as guiding principles for the development of nutrition-focused consumer marketing and education programs, including those created by the beef checkoff.

The next several months are an important time period for the DGA process. During this time, the DGAC is receiving public comments, meeting regularly to address their research questions, and examining the published science to inform their report development. The beef checkoff is working on many fronts to be engaged in the process during this critical time. Efforts are focused on: elevating awareness of checkoff-funded research, educating and engaging with nutrition thought leaders who help inform the DGA process, and preparing communications materials as needed. In addition, the checkoff supported the process last year by submitting nominations as part of the DGAC selection process. One of the researchers nominated by the Checkoff, Wayne Campbell, PhD, was selected to serve on the Committee. Dr. Campbell is a preeminent protein researcher who has published numerous manuscripts on the role of animal and plant proteins foods in the diet.

Discussion
The 2015 DGAC has emphasized its intent to promote a safe, secure, affordable and sustainable food supply that is socially and environmentally responsible. In addition, whereas previous Committees have focused on guidance to help people meet individual nutrient recommendations to prevent disease and promote health, the 2015 DGAC is emphasizing a review of dietary patterns and identifying those foods, beverages and nutrients that are the basis of these patterns for an optimal diet to prevent obesity and chronic disease such as Type 2 diabetes, cancers and cardiovascular illness. This represents a strong and important shift from previous Committees. In fact, at its first meeting, 2015 DGAC member Dr. Alice Lichtenstein said: “These won’t be your grandmother’s dietary guidelines.”

In its efforts to broaden its scope, the Committee is focusing on the following areas: consumption trends, dietary patterns, the impact of physical activity and community environments on food and diet behavior change, and food safety. In addition, for the first time, the Committee is addressing sustainability, in an attempt to review the evidence and begin to understand the link between how food is grown, produced, processed and transported on the health of humans and the environment.
 
Every DGA process presents new opportunities – and potential challenges – for beef. Based on deliberations at its two public meetings to date, the checkoff is currently working to participate in and address specific discussions during the 2015 DGA process. For example, there is significant attention by Committee members on the role of plant protein foods in the diet, particularly as they address the sustainability of foods for the first time. However, given the limited research on sustainability across the food supply, it’s unclear how the Committee will address this topic in its final recommendations, and the checkoff has supplied results from the recent lifecycle assessment LCA, which benchmarked sustainability for the beef industry, to the Committee.

In addition, this Committee is critically reviewing dietary patterns and foods within those patterns that can be markers for increased disease risk or that inhibit positive dietary behavior change. In doing this, the Committee appears eager to highlight or call into question specific foods and beverages and their role on health. Beef, among other animal proteins, has been noted by the DGAC as a food requiring further examination in the context of dietary patterns.

Conclusion
Importantly, the DGA process also presents a significant opportunity to promote checkoff-funded science on the role of beef in human health. Checkoff-funded research is critical to support efforts to ensure beef maintains its role in future dietary guidance. The beef checkoff presented oral testimony at the last DGAC meeting and is now submitting comments on checkoff-funded nutrition research, to address questions that have been highlighted at the DGAC’s first meetings. Eight sets of comments have been submitted, with several more to be submitted in coming weeks. Topics include:

  • The Evolution of Lean Beef: The checkoff has supplied evidence highlighting the efforts that the entire beef community has made – from ranch to table – to provide lean, delicious beef to consumers. Comments were also submitted to highlight the checkoff’s significant work to ensure the USDA databases are updated with the most accurate information on toady’s lean cuts, to better inform research, labeling and nutrition education efforts.
  • Beef and Heart-Healthy Diets: The Committee’s emphasis on healthful dietary patterns offers an opportunity to highlight research on beef’s role in healthful diets, such as the BOLD research. 
  • Protein and Health: The checkoff will leverage the upcoming publication of the Protein Summit 2.0 proceedings, as well as other published protein science, to ensure the latest evidence on the role of high-quality protein, like beef, at all life stages is recognized by the DGAC.

In addition to submitting science-based comments, the checkoff is reaching out to nutrition thought leaders who inform the DGA process, to educate them on the latest research on beef’s role in health and to seek their support in submitting comments. Finally, the checkoff team will be meeting with USDA staff this year to share the latest nutrition research results and education materials.

As a cornerstone of federal nutrition policy, the DGA offer a critical opportunity to communicate the role of beef in human health, based on the evidence supported by checkoff grants and others. As the DGAC deliberates, beef checkoff science education efforts will continue this year to ensure that research on the role of beef in human health is well-recognized and considered in future dietary guidance.

Additional Resources
USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans – Report

 

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Issues Updates, Spring 2014

April 7, 2014