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Shifts in food pyramid aimed at U.S. health issues

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

As obesity closes in on tobacco as the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States, federal nutrition experts have made some changes to the dietary guidelines on the food pyramid.

The food pyramid, introduced 12 years ago, is a guide to help people plan what they eat each day. The guidelines built around it offer expert advice to promote health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

"These new dietary guidelines represent our best science-based advice to help Americans live healthier and longer lives," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the release report.

"Dietary Guidelines for Americans" is published jointly every five years by HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Following the guidelines can reduce the risk of major chronic diseases.

The 2005 guidelines put stronger emphasis on calorie control and physical activity.

"Around 64 percent of adults in this country are overweight or obese," said Connie Crawley, an extension nutrition expert with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

"Of that number, 30 percent are obese," she said. "And the number of severely obese people has increased even faster than those who have become just overweight and or mildly obese."

Between 1988 and 1992, only 56 percent of adults were overweight or obese and only 23 percent were obese, Crawley said. And the percentage of children and teens between 6 and 18 years old who are overweight has doubled in the past 20 years to 15 percent.

"Genetics haven't changed that quickly," Crawley said. "Our eating and exercise habits have."

Not eating right or getting enough exercise can lead to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, certain cancers and other diseases.

In simple terms, the HHS-USDA report says the biggest reason people gain weight is that they take in more calories than they use up. The key is to find the right balance of healthful foods and physical activity.

But that's not easy. "There's a lot of research now trying to figure that out," Crawley said. "Certainly, eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as recommended in the guidelines, looks to be very important."

These foods help you cut fats and add fiber to your diet, she said. And they help you feel full. Natural foods like these may have other ways to help control weight, too.

The advertising and grocery-space ratio between these foods and unhealthy products needs to change, Crawley said, "so healthier foods are promoted more and more healthy, tasty foods are available to kids and adults."

The guidelines urge Americans to get moving. For adults, they recommend:

  • 30 minutes of activity (moderate intensity) most days to reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  • 60 minutes (moderate to vigorous) to help manage your weight.
  • 60 to 90 minutes (moderate) to lose weight (if you stay on a proper diet).
  • "Moderate" activities are those like gardening or yard work, vacuuming, washing the car or windows, badminton, cycling moderately fast, walking 3 miles per hour, water aerobics, ballroom dancing, volleyball and swimming moderately fast.

    "Vigorous" activities include fast dancing, cycling, jogging or swimming; playing racketball, handball or full-court basketball; walking 4 miles per hour; power lifting; and digging.

    The recommendation for weight loss is up from 30 minutes in previous guidelines. "That 30 minutes may be enough to help cardiovascular risk reduction," Crawley said. "But true weight control does seem to require more, especially as we get older."

    It's OK to break up that time, Crawley said. "The key is sit less and move more. Standing is better than sitting, and moving is better than standing."

    The guidelines stress eating more fruits and vegetables, whole- grain foods and nonfat or low-fat milk or milk products.

    The complete guidelines are at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/. (Faith Peppers is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

    (Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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