Sept. 14, 2017

New Report Calls for Comprehensive Redesign of Process for Updating Dietary Guidelines for Americans

WASHINGTON – Although the process used to develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) has become more evidence-based since its inception more than 30 years ago, it is not currently positioned to effectively adapt to changes such as food diversity and chronic disease prevalence, while also ensuring the integrity of the process, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should comprehensively redesign the process for updating the DGA to improve transparency, promote diversity of expertise and experience, support a deliberative process, foster independence in decision-making, and strengthen scientific rigor.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide nutritional and dietary information to promote health and prevent chronic disease.  Reviewed and updated every five years, the guidelines underpin all federal nutrition policies and programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.  The process for updating the DGA begins with an independent evaluation of the scientific evidence by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) -- a group selected and convened by USDA and HHS.  The conclusions and recommendations of the DGAC are then submitted to the secretaries of USDA and HHS in the form of a scientific report.  The DGAC's report is only advisory and does not constitute draft policy, though it does serve as the scientific evidence base for updating the subsequent edition of the DGA. The DGA themselves are then developed by USDA and HHS.

“The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have the promise to empower Americans to make informed decisions about what and how much they eat to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease,” said Robert Russell, professor emeritus of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University and chair of the National Academies' committee that conducted the study and wrote the report.  “Despite this potential, fewer than 10 percent of Americans consume a diet fully consistent with the DGA. A more trustworthy, agile, and effective process can improve the relevance and usefulness of the DGA, which may ultimately improve adherence to the guidelines. The process to update the DGA should be redesigned to increase transparency and allow for the appropriate expertise and time to focus on each step of the process, which can be achieved by reallocating the steps to a balanced and expanded set of multidisciplinary experts.”

The juxtaposition of the five-year DGA cycle and the two-year term for each DGAC constrains the overall system, including the time available to complete necessary tasks, the report says.  The DGAC conducts all tasks associated with scientific review, limiting opportunities for a truly deliberative process with the nutrition community, technical experts, and the public.  The report recommends a redistribution of the tasks of the DGAC to three separate groups with more targeted expertise in order to leverage the five-year cycle more effectively: 1) a Dietary Guidelines Planning and Continuity Group to monitor for and curate new evidence, identify and prioritize topics for inclusion in the DGA, and provide strategic planning support across DGA cycles; 2) technical expert panels to provide content and methodological consultation during evidence evaluation; and 3) a Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee to interpret the scientific evidence and draw conclusions.

The report recommends that the secretaries of USDA and HHS carry out several other actions in a number of areas as part of the process redesign.

In terms of the guidelines’ scope, future DGA should focus on the general public across the entire life span, not just healthy Americans ages 2 years and older, the report says. Given the range in health status and the prevalence of chronic diseases in the population, as well as the importance of nutrition to pregnant women and children from birth to 24 months, it is essential that future DGA be developed for all Americans whose health could benefit by improving diet. The breadth and content of each DGAC report could vary because not all topics may require a detailed review every five years; only those topics with enough new data to generate a full review would be considered for in-depth evaluation in the next DGA cycle.

The first National Academies report of this study released in February recommends ways to improve the selection process for the DGAC to provide more transparency, manage bias and conflicts of interest, and include committee members with a range of viewpoints.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.

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Dana Korsen, Media Relations Officer
Joshua Blatt, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail

Copies of Redesigning the Process for Establishing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

Health and Medicine Division
Food and Nutrition Board
Committee to Review the Process to Update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Robert M. Russell (chair)
Professor Emeritus
Nutrition and Medicine
Tufts University School of Medicine
Boston, MA

Jamy Ard
Department of Epidemiology and Prevention and Department of Medicine
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, and
Wake Forest Baptist Health Weight Management Center
Winston-Salem, N.C.

Stephanie A. Atkinson
Professor and Nutrition Clinician-Scientist
Department of Pediatrics, and
Associate Member
Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences and Faculty of Health Sciences
McMaster University; and
Professional Staff
McMaster Children’s Hospital
Hamilton, Ontario

Carol J. Boushey
Nutrition Support Shared Resource
Associate Researcher, Professor, Cancer Epidemiology Program
University of Hawaii Cancer Center
Honolulu, HI

Susan M. Krebs-Smith
Risk Factor Assessment Branch
Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program
Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences
National Cancer Institute
Bethesda, Md.

Joseph Lau
Professor Emeritus
Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health
Brown University School of Public Health
Providence, R.I.

Bruce Y. Lee
Director, Operations Research,
International Vaccine Access Center, and Executive Director,
Global Obesity Prevention Center; and
Associate Professor, International Health
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Baltimore, MD

Joanne R. Lupton1
Distinguished Professor Emerita
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX

Sally C. Morton
Lay Nam Chang Dean
College of Science
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, VA

Nicolaas P. Pronk
HealthPartners Institute, and
Chief Science Officer
HealthPartners Inc.
Minneapolis; and
Adjunct Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Cambridge, Mass.

Susan B. Roberts
Director, Energy Metabolism Laboratory,
Professor of Nutrition, and
Co-Director, Obesity Research Cluster
Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging
Tufts University
Boston; and
Professor of Psychiatry and Senior Staff Member in Pediatrics
Tufts University School of Medicine
Gloucester, Mass.

A. Catharine Ross2
Professor, Nutrition and Physiology, and
Dorothy Foehr Chair and Professor,
Department of Nutritional Sciences,
The Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, PA

Barbara O. Schneeman
Emeritus Professor of Nutrition
Department Nutrition and Food Science and Technology
University of California
Davis, CA

Martín J. Sepúlveda1
IBM Fellow
St. Augustine, Fla.


Samantha M. Chao
Study Director

1 Member, National Academy of Medicine
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences