Health Trends

Health Trends

Is your brand ready for the next Dietary Guidelines for Americans update?

By Diane Welland

You don’t just follow best practices. As a leader in the food and beverage industry, you’re always looking ahead to see how you can improve on the current standards. The 2020-2025 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is still in progress, but you can prepare for its release now by staying on top of long-term health trends.

As consumers look to the internet for advice, the Dietary Guidelines have become increasingly consumer-facing. Anticipating what consumer attitudes might look like in a few years requires paying attention to how these changes have played out in the past. The evolution of the Dietary Guidelines provides some key insights on how you can prepare for upcoming changes.

Focus on the Big Picture

Before they were readily available on the internet, the Dietary Guidelines were written mainly with professionals in mind. There was less concern about the way consumers might interpret the recommendations. Increasing consumer attention has been reflected in more recent editions partly in the scale of the information presented.

Whether they’re strictly following a diet or just not paying attention, consumers often think about diet one meal at a time. However, the current guidelines emphasize overall eating patterns over specific meals. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with keeping close track of food and beverage consumption, current trends suggest a focus on diet as a whole rather than as a day-to-day exercise.

Moderation is Key

The shift in focus from daily to overall eating habits means consumers can, in theory, indulge on occasion as long as they maintain overall healthy eating patterns. That doesn’t mean portion sizes don’t matter anymore or that eating one vegetable makes up for eating three pieces of cake. But it does mean that a person who eats too many sweets one day could make up for it by eating less of them or avoiding altogether for the rest of the week.

Small Steps

Because the information isn’t always disseminated through professionals, the Dietary Guidelines do their best to provide consumers with the tools they need to interpret the guidelines and personalize their own healthy diet. To do this, the report not only outlines model dietary patterns, but also emphasizes advice on which consumers might be more likely to act.

Health Trends 2

As the Dietary Guidelines become more accessible to consumers, their recommendations increasingly focus on small, everyday changes people can make on their own. Where guidelines of the past zeroed in on a particular nutrient – increase fiber, avoid fat or saturated fat or lower sodium intake – current trends indicate that the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines might take a more moderate, less prescriptive approach. For example, the report might recommend cutting back on less healthy foods rather than eliminating them altogether, so people can think about shifting to the better, healthier choice one step at a time.

All of these trends de-emphasize extremes. Healthy Americans are discouraged from making drastic changes to their diets, even if they don’t make perfect eating and drinking choices at every meal – partly because it is unlikely these drastic changes will last, and partly because they are not really necessary or effective. Anyone looking for nutrition advice on the internet will find no shortage of false claims, but there is little evidence supporting the idea that a typical, healthy individual needs to entirely add or remove a certain food or drink from their diet.

The audience for the Dietary Guidelines doesn’t change the science behind them. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines will make recommendations based on the evidence available, not the expertise of the people reading them. However, the way this information is presented and communicated to consumers has changed, and these changes reflect the way consumers now tend to think about eating and drinking. Understanding these shifts may help put upcoming changes in perspective and provide insights into future nutrition policy.

Diane Welland, RD, is a nutrition communications manager at Kellen, a leading global association management and communications services company that works with more than 100 trade associations and professional societies—many of which support the food and beverage industry.

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