NUTRITION: Clinton Announces New Federal Diet Guidelines
During his weekly radio address, President Clinton announced the government's new dietary guidelines, recommendations which determine the nutritional content of school lunches served to 26 million children daily, the New York Times reports. The guidelines, updated every five years, call for reduced consumption of saturated fats, sodium, and sugar, as well as maintaining a healthy body weight. According to Clinton, "the vast majority of Americans still don't have healthy diets" due to a "growing reliance on modern conveniences" that lead to increased obesity. Federal officials added that 90% of Americans need to make improvements in their diets. The full text of the guidelines are available at www.usda.gov.
A Battle of Words
Drafted by a joint advisory committee of the Agriculture Department and HHS, the new recommendations, considered "tame" by some critics, were forged amidst heated lobbying from public interest advocates and food producers over specific wording. The sugar industry, for example, won a major battle by persuading the administration to change the phrase "go easy on beverages and foods high in added sugars" to "choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars." Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), was not pleased: "It's unfortunate the government caved in to pressure from junk food makers. The sugar industry was out in full force" (Marquis, 5/28). The dairy industry also successfully lobbied to prevent the government from listing soy milk among traditional dairy products, and the salt industry lost its bid to have the phrase "prepare foods with less salt" removed from the guidelines. "This represents the latest and best science and medical consensus on basic principles for healthy eating," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said, adding: "Is every single food manufacturer and commodity group going to be happy? Probably not" (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 5/30).
What's in the Mystery Meat?
Clinton also announced that his administration will seek mandatory nutrition labeling for fresh meat and poultry, although details will not be finalized until later this summer, the AP/New York Daily News reports. "Providing citizens with accurate information that affects their lives is one of the government's most vital responsibilities," he said (5/28). Although most foods have been required to carry nutrition labels since 1994, meat and poultry were exempt. Consumer advocates praised the move, hailing it as a "major victory." "It's heartening that the USDA is finally going to propose regulations," Michael Jacobson, executive director for the CSPI, said. Industry groups offered "cautious" approval. "We support nutrition labeling. But we're not necessarily stating that we support the proposed rule," Mary Young, executive director of nutrition for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, commented. With food-borne illnesses on the rise, Clinton also urged the food industry "to use its vast resources" to maintain the safety of meat (Squires, Washington Post, 5/28). The move comes after Texas federal judge Joe Fish struck down the Agriculture Department's testing program to detect salmonella contamination in beef processing plants, because the test "does not necessarily evaluate whether a plant is sanitary" (AP/Dayton Daily News, 5/26).
Meanwhile, at a two-day nutrition and health summit, federal officials plan to fund research to determine whether popular diets actually help people lose weight on a long-term basis or possibly harm patients, the Los Angeles Times reports. The officials, concerned about the growing rate of obesity in America, are also considering a new marketing plan aimed at countering the appeal of fast food. "There are a lot of strategies being planned ... It has to be packaged in a way that is exciting," Eileen Kennedy, deputy undersecretary of Agriculture for research, education and economics, said. Policy makers remain concerned about the health dangers of obesity, a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes. According to government estimates, dietary-related factors lead to about 120,000 deaths each year, tallying a $70 billion annual medical bill. "Most Americans already know they should aim for a healthy weight," Kennedy said. "What we have to do is figure out what are the barriers preventing them from acting, and how to overcome those barriers," she added (Rosenblatt, 5/30).