'There Isn't Enough Fresh Produce' for Everyone to Follow Dietary Guidelines

June 17, 2013 - 6:41 AM

fruit, food, fresh produce

Fruit waiting to be sold at a farmers' market in Baltimore. (AP File Photo/Steve Ruark)

(CNSNews.com) - Although the world is still "very far" from meeting the recommended daily intake of healthy foods, if everyone suddenly did follow those guidelines, there wouldn't be enough of the recommended food to go around, says one of the 15 experts appointed to serve on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

"A huge challenge that the world is facing now is that if everyone decided to follow the Dietary Guidelines recommendations -- say for fish -- we would deplete the ocean in a relatively short period of time," said Yale School of Public Health Professor Rafael Pérez-Escamilla.

"Aquaculture or fish-farming has become an alternative, but oftentimes these operations cause damage to diverse ecosystems. Likewise, there isn’t enough fresh produce grown globally through sustainable practices to allow all individuals to meet the recommended daily intakes.

"The imperative need to understand how to improve the ecological sustainability of the global food systems that need to be in place to allow all individuals to follow the Dietary Guidelines has become one of the most important and complex global challenge for the 21st century," he said in an interview posted on Yale's School of Public Health website.

Pérez-Escamilla is among 15 people asked to produce the eighth (2015) edition of the Dietary Guidelines. He also worked on the most recent guidelines, produced in 2010.

"I am very concerned that we are still very far from meeting the recommended consumption of healthy foods that are naturally nutrient dense."

The professor said the obesity epidemic began in the 1970s, with a "serious deterioration of lifestyle choices" and the "emergence of highly obesogenic environments in our society where the easy choices became to consume excessive amounts of calories and to become highly sedentary."

While individuals' lifestyle choices are influenced by their environments, dietary habits also are "strong influenced by he marketing practices of the food industry," he said. Other factors include social position, cultural preferences, and the health/nutrition literacy of individuals.

Asked how things will change in the coming decade, Pérez-Escamilla took an optimistic view, with a nod to First Lady Michelle Obama:

"I believe that obesity levels are going to drop because of the strong social demand that has developed in recent years for improved access to healthier foods and opportunities for physical activity in communities around the country. Also because of the discovery of how important it is to start obesity prevention efforts as early in life as possible (even before mom gets pregnant) and the interest among key stakeholders to translate this fundamental knowledge, the so-called maternal-child life cycle approach, to obesity prevention, into concrete actions.

"However, for this to happen, it is crucial that the political leadership provided by key public figures, such as First Lady Michelle Obama, continues in the years to come. Also key to this success will be the proper allocation of funding for research studies to better understand how to work at the different spheres of influence that affect individual’s food and physical activity choices to design better food and nutrition policies and to improve the environments needed for these policies to actually translate into access to healthy diets in neighborhoods, schools and households so that the selection of healthy lifestyles becomes the easy choice for all."

The professor said the degree to which Americans follow the Dietary Guidelines has a "profound" impact on public health:

"The key question then becomes: What can we all do as a country so that adhering to the Dietary Guidelines becomes the easiest choice and not the most difficult, as is now the case in the environments where most Americans live, go to school and work?"

The first edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans was released in 1980. Congress mandated that they be reviewed, updated, and published every 5 years in a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Beginning with the 1985 edition, HHS and USDA have appointed a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee consisting of nationally recognized experts in the field of nutrition and health. The charge to the Committee is to review the scientific and medical knowledge current at the time. The Committee then prepares a report for the HHS and USDA secretaries that provides recommendations for the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines based on their review of current literature.