Small Victory With New USDA Dietary Guidelines, One Step Closer To Change

Maybe some of you have heard that the new 2015- 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines have been released, if not NPR did a great job of summarizing the changes last week and I encourage you to listen or read about it.

I am happy to see they finally dropped the very low recommendations for dietary cholesterol, as it has been shown for some time that there is no link between dietary cholesterol and increased blood cholesterol. But what I am even more pleased about is the new suggested limits on added sugar intake. The new recommendation is that no more than 10 percent of daily calories should come from sugar. If you are thinking 10% sounds low, you’re right – at least compared to what we are consuming now which is 20% or more. To translate this, ten percent equates to 12 teaspoons of sugar if you are consuming the average 2000 calories. Our current labels do not inform us in terms of teaspoons, but rather in grams which I think adds to the confusion with sugar intake. Your 12 teaspoons of sugar actually equals 48 grams of sugar. Forty eight grams is your MAXIMUM FOR THE DAY, not in one sitting. That Grande Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks has 32 grams….Are you eating anything with that coffee?

I can’t express to you how happy I am to see this new recommendation. Not only do health professionals use these guidelines to inform their work with patients, but our school lunch guidelines are based on these recommendations as well. This is big news. Sugar has been my biggest contention with school food for many years. Sugar sells, it brings profits. Sugar makes kids happy and it can be a good motivator, it is easy. But these motivations and profits are at the expense of our children – not only their current health, but their health in the future. Many think I am over-dramatizing the issue, but the facts are in. Sugar is addictive. Sugar is linked with every major disease currently killing Americans – heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The current generation of children are diagnosed with more food related illnesses and have shorter expected life spans than any other generation of children before them.

It is reminiscent of another industry – tobacco.  Cigarettes are addictive. Cigarettes are linked to serious health implications. We all know that giving a six year old a cigarette every day will create a lifetime smoker and will increase health complications while reducing their life expectancy. We understand that it is a dangerous practice and is socially unacceptable. We have gone after the tobacco companies and outlawed the practice of  marketing their products to minors because of this. Why then is it acceptable to allow and support the sale of highly processed, sugary products to children as young as three by a public institution tasked with educating and preparing them for the world? It is baffling to me.

Parents are on both sides of the fence of this issue as well, many vehemently defending their right to feed their child any food they want. I get it, land of the free – we don’t want anyone taking away our parental rights. But by taking that stance, we are playing into the hands of a powerful industry. The food industry. They have mastered what it takes to get people to literally become addicted to their food, thus creating a powerful market. Are you arguing  for your right to give your child a cigarette? Why not? That also infringes on your rights as a parent. I believe the difference lies in the social acceptability – it has become socially unacceptable to do so because we all understand the inherent risk it becomes to that child’s health. This, my friend, is the point. It has become socially unacceptable because people are aware of the risk. So with this new guideline, the risk becomes clearer and we are faced with whether or not we are willing to take that risk with our child. The more clearly we understand the risk, the less socially acceptable it then becomes.

While this is a step in the right direction, we are in no way done. While these new recommendations are a huge step in the right direction, there is much to be done to change what and how we offer food in a school lunchroom. Take some time to read over the guidelines and let me know what you think, did anything jump out at you? More to come on changing school food….

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