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Backgrounder -
Adult Nutrition & Health


As the 20th century draws to a close, concerns about adult nutrition differ significantly from those of earlier years. Prior to World War II, Americans' main nutritional problems stemmed from a lack of sufficient food or variety of foods. Nutrition scientists of that era focused on defining essential nutrients, primarily vitamins, in order to outline the minimum food intake necessary for good health.

As American society became more affluent, however, nutritional concerns changed from the effects of too little food or nutrients to an overabundance of food or certain nutrients. Epidemiological and laboratory studies demonstrated a link between dietary excesses and chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and cancer. These findings led to the development of dietary recommendations intended to reduce Americans' risk of chronic disease.

In the late 1970s, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs issued the Dietary Goals for the United States. Since then, various federal agencies have issued similar recommendations for achieving a healthy diet, including The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health in 1988, the National Research Council report Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk in 1989 and Healthy People 2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives in 1990 by the U.S. Public Health Service.

Dietary recommendations developed by independent health organizations such as the American Heart Association also closely resemble those issued by the federal government, indicating a general consensus among nutrition scientists regarding the role of diet in health and disease.

Food Guide Pyramid

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Modern dietary recommendations focus on ensuring an adequate intake of nutrients such as carbohydrates and fiber, while moderating others such as dietary fat which may be linked to the development of chronic disease. The recommendations are largely summed up in Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This publication was first developed more than a decade ago by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services for use in consumer nutrition education efforts with healthy Americans age two years and older. The fourth edition issued in December 1995 advises:

These guidelines are reviewed every five years and will be updated in 2000.

In 1992, the USDA put forth the Food Guide Pyramid as a nutrition education tool to help put the Dietary Guidelines for Americans into action. The Pyramid serves as a general guide for daily food choices. It includes specific recommendations for daily intake of five different food groups as well as guidelines for moderating intake of fat and sugars.

Healthy People 2000

Healthy People 2000 is a national initiative to improve the health of all Americans through prevention. It is driven by 300 specific national health promotion and disease prevention objectives targeted for achievement by the year 2000. The overall goals of this national initiative are to increase the span of healthy life, reduce health disparities among Americans and achieve access to preventive services.

Nutrition is one of 22 priority areas in Healthy People 2000's national health promotion and disease prevention objectives. Year 2000 objectives related to the nutritional status of Americans are:

National, state and local activities are ongoing to help achieve these nutrition objectives before the next millennium.


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