The committee, a group of 20 doctors, registered dietitians and public health experts, recommends reducing added sugars to 6 percent of daily calories, from 10 percent. The previous Dietary Guidelines took a major step forward in 2015 by suggesting added sugars be limited to 10 percent of total daily calories, but leading health organizations, supported by science, have long argued that lower limits would better protect health.
And for the first time, the committee made recommendations for children up to 2 years old, suggesting a ban on sugar-sweetened beverages. The experts argued that calories from sugar-sweetened beverages may displace those from nutritious foods and increase the risk of the child becoming overweight.
The advisory committee’s report guides the Department of Health and Human Services and the Agriculture Department in determining the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which help shape federally funded food assistance programs and the contents of school lunches, how foods are labeled and what our doctors exhort us to avoid or embrace.
With half of American adults suffering from one or more preventable, chronic diseases and about two-thirds of U.S. adults overweight or obese, the committee’s recommendations come at a critical time.
People with diet-related diseases are at higher risk during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And there has been greater national scrutiny of systemic racism and the ways in which it compromises the health and well-being of people of color.
But there are signs Americans are moving in a more healthful direction. About 37 percent of the country met the guidelines to get less than 10 percent of their calories from added sugar in 2016, up from 30 percent in 2013.
“In our view, the committee got it mostly right with these recommendations,” says Jessi Silverman, policy associate at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest. But she warned food industry lobbying groups may seek to weaken the official guidelines and that “there is often political interference after the committee’s report.”
Committee members themselves are prohibited from speaking to the media until their deliberations have concluded.
Mary Story, a nutrition professor at Duke who was on the 2015 advisory committee, says that the Agriculture Department has a history of watering down or disregarding committee recommendations in the final guidelines, often because of political pressures.
“Our 2015 report [had] recommendations on reducing meat intake and addressing diet and sustainability — what is good for human health and planetary health — and this caused a ruckus in the industry and Congress,” she wrote in an email. These recommendations were removed from the finished guidelines.
U.S. dietary guidelines committee goes after added sugar and sugar-sweetened