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New us diet less calories { September 10 2003 }

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September 10, 2003
U.S. Diet Proposals Reflect Nation's Lack of Fitness

The Department of Agriculture is proposing dietary advice that for the first time recognizes that a majority of Americans, 64 percent, are overweight and sedentary and need to eat less.

Until now, that dietary advice, reflected in the department's Food Guide Pyramid, has been geared to the nation's healthy population. Under the proposals, recommendations for these more active people would continue to be available but would no longer serve as the cornerstone of government nutrition information.

The new recommendations call for most women from 35 to 70 years old, for instance, to eat 1,600 to 1,800 calories a day, and for most men in that age group to eat 2,000 to 2,200 calories. Previously, the recommendation for most such people, then assumed to be active, was about 600 calories more.

"Over all, the message is that people have to eat a lot less than they are currently eating," said Dr. Marion Nestle, chairwoman of the department of nutrition and food studies at New York University. "People will be shocked at how little it is."

The proposals, being published today in the Federal Register, will now be subject to a period of public comment. The final version will serve as a basis for a new Food Guide Pyramid.

The pyramid, which depicts food groups and the number of servings of each to be consumed daily, makes grains the diet's largest component, at the bottom of the pyramid, and recommends that fats, oils and sugars be eaten sparingly. That will continue to be the case in the new pyramid.

The proposals are also intended to meet the Institute of Medicine's new nutritional standards for vitamins, minerals and macronutrients like protein, fat and cholesterol. They include recommendations for a greater intake of fiber and vitamin E, and also say that half the grains consumed should be whole grains, advice that was not previously specified.

Another first under the proposals is that the government would provide guidance on what constitutes an active or a somewhat active lifestyle. That could help people determine whether they should follow the caloric advice for the sedentary category or would be able to add calories because they exercised as much as 600 more calories for very active women, and 800 for men.

The proposals would make the government's caloric advice far more specific than ever before. Instead of three caloric intake levels that depend on groupings of age, gender and level of activity, there would be 12, with very specific recommendations for the amount of food. Such specificity is surprising, Dr. Nestle said, because "it makes something look extremely scientific that is based on a lot of uncertainty in caloric data and in food composition data."

Further, Dr. Nestle said, she does not know whether this more individualized approach will improve matters, because people remain largely unaware of how many calories they consume.

Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, said the changes being made were minor and would not make any difference.

The Agriculture Department, she said, "is still not dealing with serious deficiencies in the pyramid lumping together high-fat cheese and fat-free milk, and making no distinction between nuts and fish versus fatty meats."

"To cover up those deficiencies with minor changes," she added, "is a waste of taxpayers' money and a missed opportunity."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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