New dietary guidelines address sodium, obesity

WASHINGTON: Federal officials urged Americans to reduce their sodium intake and called on the food and beverage industries to help address the nation's obesity epidemic in the new dietary guidelines.

WASHINGTON: Federal officials urged Americans to reduce their sodium intake and called on the food and beverage industries to help address the nation's obesity epidemic in the new dietary guidelines.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans today.

The policy document, which is published every five years, recommends that Americans cut calorie consumption and sodium intake, drink water instead of sugared beverages, and eat more fruits and vegetables.

The guidelines repeatedly note that one out of three children and two-thirds of adults in the US are overweight or obese.

The guidance says that Americans should reduce sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. They also say that people who are 51 years old or older, African-American, or those with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic diseases, should cut sodium to 1,500 milligrams or less each day.

“There's an opportunity for lower sodium products that taste good,” said Janet Helm, chief food and nutrition strategist at Weber Shandwick.

She also noted the importance of public-private partnerships and the role of potential corporate social responsibility programs that could help address accessibility issues, such as food deserts, lack of consumer education, and cost.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cited the need for healthier students and workforces in the US during the January 31 webcast, as well as the potential for government to work with the “food and restaurant” industries.

“There's more cooperation between the government and the industry than what I've seen,” said Steve Christensen, director in the US healthcare practice at Burson-Marsteller and former senior adviser at the USDA. “I've seen a marked shift between how policymakers approach nutrition policy and how the industry approached that issue.” 

Many large food and beverage companies, including Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, General Mills, and ConAgra, have previously announced initiatives to reduce sodium in packaged foods.

And, WalMart partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama earlier this month when it announced that it plans to reduce sodium and added sugars in its products, lower prices on healthier foods, and push its supplier to follow suit.

Dave DeCecco, director of PepsiCo's media bureau, said that the company's messaging won't change, following publication of the dietary guidelines, because it's already “in sync” with the new government guidance.

“We believe nutrition can be a $30 billion business for us by 2020,” said DeCecco in an e-mail. “We see tremendous opportunities to develop healthy new product offerings.”

The government's consumer education and communications campaign, including an updated Food Pyramid, is expected to launch later this year.

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