Sue Ducat
Director of Communications
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Melissa Blair
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
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Final 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines For Americans

A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the recommendations of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released on January 7, 2016. This brief updates a previous Health Policy Brief, which looked at the 2015 recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). This brief details the most recent guidelines recommendations: a new concentration on a healthy dietary pattern, such as consuming a suggested three to five cups of coffee daily, instead of specifying particular nutrients; and changes in overall sugar, cholesterol, and fat consumption.

Topics covered by this policy brief include:

  • What's the background? As the brief explains, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been offering nutritional advice for more than 100 years; however, the first dietary guidelines were not released until 1980. The brief provides a quick history of both the guidelines and the DGAC selection process, which is under the joint jurisdiction of the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services. The most recent DGAC report, published on February 19, 2015, elicited 29,000 public comments.

  • What's the advice, and what's the debate? The brief outlines the recommendations and details what's different from the most recent (2010) version. As the brief notes, nutrition is a relatively young science and dispensing good nutritional advice to an entire population is not easy. Some of the new recommendations, such as lifting the 300 milligram cholesterol daily limit, prompted strong response from the policy community and two riders to Congress' Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, one providing funding for an independent study of the process to establish DGAC and create guidelines.

  • What's next? These new guidelines, suggest the brief, have resuscitated a vigorous debate about nutrition health policy that will undeniably shape the general perception of what healthy eating means. The recommendation to reduce sugar consumption has the potential to make a dent in the nation's obesity epidemic. And, the brief concludes, new language in the 2014 Farm Bill, requiring nutritional information for infants, toddlers, and pregnant women, will serve to increase the DGA's influence.

About Health Policy Briefs

Health Policy Briefs are aimed at policy makers, congressional staffers, and others needing short, jargon-free explanations of health policy basics. The briefs, which are reviewed by experts in the field, include competing arguments on policy proposals and the relevant research supporting each perspective.

Previous Health Policy Briefs have addressed:

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Health Affairs is the leading journal at the intersection of health, health care, and policy. Published by Project HOPE, the peer-reviewed journal appears each month in print and online, with additional Web First papers and health policy briefs published regularly at Read daily perspectives on Health Affairs Blog and customize the content you want to see in Health Affairs Alerts.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are striving to build a national Culture of Health that will enable all to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at