Optimism greets diet guidelines

Recommendations are a revision of rules set by the federal government.
Monday, January 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:42 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Nutrition experts expect that, in the wake of fad diets, Americans will find the revised governmental nutritional guidelines more useful.

Teri Jo Oetting, a registered dietician with the Missouri Beef Industry Council and member of the Missouri Dietetic Association, said she thinks Americans will take the updated guidelines more seriously than previous guidelines.

“Most Americans are confused by the popular fad diets,” Oetting said. “People are realizing that they aren’t working. They work for six months and then they gain the weight back.”

The revised dietary guidelines, released last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, offer science-based advice promoting healthy eating choices and exercise.

Key recommendations include maintaining a healthy body weight by reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that American women consume about 2,000 calories per day; men are advised to consume 2,600 calories per day.

The new guidelines also include increasing exercise and the consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while reducing salt and fats.

The revised guidelines also recommend that people participate in 60 to 90 minutes of daily, moderate physical activity. Previous guidelines recommended only 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

Oetting said that an increase in activity will be a challenge for many people, but not impossible.

“People need to realize that physical activity doesn’t mean joining a gym, necessarily,” Oetting said. “Jumping rope in your house, playing with your kids, parking your car farther away, throwing a Frisbee, cleaning your house — all of these things are moderate activity.”

The CDC reports that more than 65 percent of Americans are overweight and more than half of Americans get too little physical activity. Sixty percent of Missourians are overweight or obese. These numbers have continued to increase steadily over the past 20 years.

Pat Brooks, director of nutrition services for Columbia Public Schools, said the updated guidelines will not have a direct effect on what is served in schools. The Columbia Public Schools participate in the National School Lunch Program. Under this program, schools serve foods that meet federal nutrition requirements.

“Our guidelines are very specific,” Brooks said. “If the USDA changes, we change.”

Brooks said that since the updated guidelines were just recently released, changes to the National School Lunch Program have not yet been made.

Bruce Whitesides, physical education coordinator for the Columbia Public Schools, said the updated guidelines would not have a major impact on physical education courses. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade participate in two, 30-minute physical education classes per week.

“We would like schools to require daily physical activity, but the state is not exactly where we are on this,” Whitesides said.

Students at the high school level are required to take one semester of health science and one semester of physical education. Students may also take these classes as electives. Whitesides said he has seen an increase in enrollment in these classes in the past few years.

“We emphasize enjoyable participation, not just in competitive sports,” Whitesides said. “We help the students develop an attitude for a healthy lifestyle.”

The updated guidelines are recommended for use by health education experts, such as doctors and nutritionists.

“The next vital step for dieticians and other health professionals is to communicate the core messages from the guidelines so that consumers will understand them and make appropriate lifestyle changes,” Oetting said.

Oetting recommends that people seek a registered dietician to help them better understand the guidelines.

“Dieticians can help people key-in on their own needs,” Oetting said. “Physical activity is like an investment. It takes discipline to save money, and it takes discipline to keep up with physical activity.”

The USDA’s Food Guidance System, also known as the Food Guide Pyramid, is undergoing revision. It will be released this spring.

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