July 15, 2020

New changes in the nutritional habits of the average American could be on the horizon.

Such is the goal of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which released a report of updated recommendations today that aim to promote evidenced-based improvements to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The United States Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) collaborate on updates to these Dietary Guidelines every five years. For 2020, the Advisory Committee has made specific recommendations that target the overconsumption of alcohol and sugar in the American diet.

Dr. Elizabeth Mayer Davis

Dr. Beth Mayer-Davis

Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, PhD, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of nutrition and medicine and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, chaired the subcommittee on Beverages and Added Sugars that put forward these new recommendations. The Beverages and Added Sugars subcommittee is part of a large group of independent nutritional scientists and public health experts that make up the Advisory Committee.

The proposed changes to the Dietary Guidelines for 2020 come amidst a backdrop of serious nutrition-related health concerns in the U.S. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, which contributes to the increased prevalence of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers. In addition, food insecurity and the inability to access affordable and healthy meal options have disproportionately affected children and families of low socioeconomic status and communities of color.

The accessibility of foods with added sugars, especially in beverages, snacks and breakfast cereals, means that Americans are at high risk of developing poor dietary habits early in life that can set them up for long-term health problems. An estimated 13% of the average American diet consists of added sugars, higher than the suggested 10% by the current Dietary Guidelines.

Alcohol consumption – binge drinking, in particular – is also on the rise, leading to increased behavioral risks, as well as poorer social, economic and health outcomes in the long term. Many adults exceed the recommendation of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. And while small levels of alcohol consumption pose a low risk for health problems, there is still a persistent misconception that mild alcohol consumption is good for health despite recent studies using state-of-the-art methods that have disproven this theory.

The Advisory Committee has recommended that the 2020 Dietary Guidelines be updated to advise that added sugars represent less than 6% of daily nutritional intake. In addition, it has recommended that the guidelines for alcohol consumption be reduced to one drink per day for men, equivalent to the recommendation for women. And while many Americans choose not to consume alcohol at all, the recommendations also discourage people from starting if they are considering doing so for health reasons.

It is important to note that the restricted recommendations for alcohol consumption mean one drink per day on the days a person chooses to consume alcohol. It does not mean people should consume one drink per day cumulatively during the week, nor does it mean that people who do not drink during the workweek could have six drinks on the weekend.

“These updated recommendations are based on a rigorous review of the scientific evidence along with analyses of what Americans currently consume,” said Mayer-Davis. “The goal is to promote health through healthy dietary patterns in which intake of added sugars and of alcohol is lessened.”

The Advisory Committee’s report will now head to the USDA and HHS for review. The organizations will jointly consider these recommendations, along with input from other federal agencies and the public, as they continue to develop the official 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The new guidelines are expected to be released by the end of the calendar year.

“Science-based dietary guidance is critical to ensuring a healthy future for America,” said USDA Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps. “USDA greatly appreciates the high-quality work done by this committee comprised of our nation’s leading scientists and dietary experts. We look forward to thoroughly reviewing the report and leveraging their scientific advice as we partner with HHS to develop the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Read the full report online.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

Visit our communications and marketing team page.
Contact sphcomm@unc.edu with any media inquiries or general questions.

Communications and Marketing Office
125 Rosenau Hall
CB #7400
135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400