The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) provide nutritional advice for Americans who are healthy or who are at risk for chronic disease but do not currently have chronic disease. The Guidelines are published every five years by the US Department of Agriculture, together with the US Department of Health and Human Services. Notably, the most recent ninth edition for 2020–25 includes dietary guidelines for children from birth to 23 months.
In addition to the Dietary Guidelines per se, there additional tools for assessing diet and nutrition, including the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) which can be used to assess the quality of a given selection of foods in the context of the Dietary Guidelines. Also provided are additional explanations regarding customization of the Guidelines to individual eating preferences, application of the Guidelines during pregnancy and infancy, the USDA Nutrition Evidence Systematic Review, information about the Nutrition Communicators Network and the MyPlate initiative, information from the National Academies about redesigning the process by which the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are created, and information about dietary guidelines from other nations.
The nominal purpose of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to help health professionals and policymakers to advise Americans about healthy choices for their diet; many critics have suggested that the chief purpose is instead to support the commercial interests of agribusiness and food manufacturers.
For the expert panel that developed the new guidelines, 19 of the twenty panel members had conflicts of interest due to ties to the food or pharmaceutical industries with research funding or membership of an advisory/executive board accounting for more than 60% of the documented conflicts of interest. Multiple panel members had connections with one or more of Kellogg, Abbott, Kraft, Mead Johnson, General Mills, Dannon, and the International Life Sciences. In formulating the Dietary Guidelines for 2020–2025, the US Federal government rejected the advice of the expert scientific panel that the guidelines set new low targets for consumption of sugar and alcoholic beverages.
The current edition (2020-2025) gives four overarching guidelines: Follow a healthy dietary pattern throughout life; use nutrient-dense food and beverages to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations; meet dietary food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages within calorie limits; and limit foods and beverages with higher added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages.
In support of these four guidelines, the key recommendations are: avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers and limit added sugars to less than 10% of calories for those 2 years old and older; limit saturated fat to less than 10% of calories starting at age 2; limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day (or even less if younger than 14) and limit alcoholic beverages (if consumed) to 2 drinks or less daily for men and 1 drink or less a daily for women. In 2022, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a new “mid-course correction” report evaluating how well the USDA has followed their 2016 recommendations. Six of the seven recommendations made by the NASEM in 2017 have not been fully adopted; one recommendation could not be assessed by the NASEM.
Since the introduction of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980, many Americans have followed the recommendations in these guidelines, markedly increasing their consumption of carbohydrates. Since 1980, there has been a marked increase in obesity and diabetes mellitus type 2 in the American population.
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