A School of Public Health professor is helping the government fight obesity and chronic disease.
Rafael Pérez-Escamilla and the 12 other members of the 2010 US Dietary Advisory Committee — a committee of nutrition experts assembled every five years to determine whether the government should revise the current national health guidelines — submitted their advisory report to the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in May. The 2010 “Report of the Dietary
Guidelines Advisory Committee,” which recommends fewer calories and more plant-based fiber in the American diet, was unique in that it used new electronic research technology to gather data. Perez-Escamilla said he is confident in the report’s ability to halt the rising obesity epidemic, provided the government and other stakeholders continue supporting efforts to improve national nutrition, with initiatives like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” children’s health campaign.
“We have window of opportunity, and its not going to last forever,” he said. “I hope that in next five years before the next report we can say things are improving — hopefully our report can be part of the success story.”
The committee agreed that in the face of the growing obesity epidemic, Americans should consume fewer calories and more fiber-rich vegetables, Pérez-Escamilla said.
The report recommends men intake between 2,000 and 3,000 calories each day, depending on age and level of physical activity, while women should consume between 1,600 and 2,400 calories. To maximize metabolic efficiency, Pérez-Escamilla said these diets should include more plant-based fiber and no more than 1500 mg of sodium — 800 less than the amount of sodium intake recommended in 2005.
“The reason for decreasing sodium [intake] is that 1,500 has been the recommendation for people with hypertension, and now almost everyone [is at risk],” Pérez-Escamilla said.
The 2010 committee used unprecedented technology to reach these conclusions.
The group implemented the new web-based USDA Nutritional Evidence Library — a compilation of previous academic research on nutrition — to gather scientific evidence related to their 190 key questions on nutritional concerns. Evidence used in the report is now stored in the online library, so that the next Advisory Committee can easily access previous studies, Pérez-Escamilla said.
The 2010 advisory report also increased the committee’s public transparency, Pérez-Escamilla said.
The committee’s final report, transcripts of each of its public meetings, and the committee’s reviews of each article of evidence used for the report is available online for public review.
The committee was formed in fall 2008 when the USDA and HHS secretaries selected a team of health and nutrition experts who they thought could represent a broad spectrum of topics, including epidemiology, pediatrics, nutrition biochemistry and physiology, the report said.
“Obviously different groups nominate scientists they hope will represent their interests,” Pérez-Escamilla said. “But the screening process is very thorough, and recommendations have to rely on expertise coming from different backgrounds.”
The wide variety of interests represented in the committee led to a few disagreements when the group gathered to reach consensuses on controversial topics such as animal-based proteins and the consumption of fish during pregnancy, Pérez-Escamilla said. While groups representing the fish industry highlighted the cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of fish for children, pharmaceutical representatives argued that the mercury content in fish can be dangerous and should be supplemented by certain pills, he said. The committee eventually agreed that while some fish should be avoided, others provide valuable nutrients, Pérez-Escamilla said.
The USDA and the HHS will use the Advisory Committee’s report to create the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and revise the food pyramid, releasing both to the public by the end of the year, Pérez-Escamilla said.