Policy on the Plate: An Overview of Presentations and Dialogue from the Fourth Meeting of the DGAC


Today’s post comes from guest blogger, Apeksha Gulvady, PhD. Apeksha holds an MA and PhD in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Texas in Austin, where her research focused on the role of aging and diet-induced obesity on immune cell function. Apeksha previously worked with PepsiCo R&D, where she supported core nutrition business activities and priorities in both global foods and beverages, and she has recently joined Edelman Public Relations to pursue her passion for nutrition communications.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), consisting of nationally recognized experts in the field of nutrition and health, recently reviewed the latest in nutrition research in pursuit of developing evidence-based recommendations for the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The overarching goal of these new recommendations is to encourage Americans to eat a well-balanced diet to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health and prevent disease.

The DGAC’s fourth meeting, held July 17-18, commenced with an introduction by DGAC Chair, Barbara Millen, who underscored the broad scope of work the Committee has undertaken and the Committee’s three core themes: 1) Dietary Patterns; 2) “What works” to help people actually implement the Dietary Guidelines; and 3) a Systems Approach focusing on what, where and how people consume food and exercise.

Subcommittee 1 on food and nutrient Intakes, and health: current status and trends found that there are multiple ways to build a healthful diet, and it can be done by way of the current food supply. The challenge then becomes, how to make these diets accessible to people and inspire them to make healthier choices. During the discussion, Wayne Campbell stated that proteins are notoriously under-consumed at breakfast, and Barbara Millen agreed, calling out eggs as an important protein source to consider.

Subcommittee 2 on dietary patterns, foods and nutrients, and health outcomes presented a review of evidence on dietary patterns associated with reduced risk for the development of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, overweight/ obesity and cancer. Overall, they observed that “common dietary patterns confer benefits across a variety of outcomes.” During the Committee’s discussion about the need for more specificity regarding individual foods and amounts within these dietary patterns (e.g. lean red meat vs. chicken vs. fish; low-fat vs full-fat dairy; refined grains and added sugars), a Committee member mentioned research indicating that dietary patterns associated with favorable outcomes related to body weight and reduction of CVD risk include low intakes of cholesterol, among other nutrients. This prompted Miriam Nelson, to challenge whether it was cholesterol itself or rather food sources of cholesterol that were related to observed health risks. Frank Hu clarified that observed health outcomes were attributed to dietary patterns rather than individual effects of cholesterol or any single nutrient.

Subcommittee 3 on diet and physical activity behavior change examined emerging areas of research including acculturation, eating out and mobile technology as it relates to health behavior change strategies. Overall, these areas had very limited research available, and more research is needed.

Subcommittee 4 on food and physical activity environments presented updates in three areas: food access, early childhood and school environment. Overall, they found limited evidence in these areas and that more research needs to be explored. Also, initial conclusions within additional areas of exploration are yet to come at future meetings.

Findings of Subcommittee 5 on food sustainability and safety were similar to the dietary patterns associated with positive health outcomes presented by Subcommittee 2 (e.g. Mediterranean, vegetarian, etc.). The Committee found that in general, a dietary pattern that is lower in animal-based foods and higher in plant-based foods has lesser environmental impact.

The physical activity writing group lead by Miriam Nelson stated that the DGAC will include physical activity recommendations for various age groups, based on recommendations from the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

While this fourth meeting of the DGAC indicated the directions that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may take, it is clear that more research is needed in each focus area, and final determinations and recommendations for all topics under the Committee’s broad scope are as of yet undecided. With multiple meetings and opportunities for public and private entities to provide feedback and comments, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans remains a work in progress, and the ongoing dialogue of the DGAC will become increasingly important for health professionals to monitor.

Apeksha Gulvady, PhD

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