Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Can the USDA Guidelines Really Lead to Healthier Eating Habits?

/PRNewswire/ -- As National Nutrition month comes to a close, Alere Health, the health management services business of Alere Inc., highlights four ways that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) updated dietary guidelines can be used to encourage actionable changes in behavior.

In January, the USDA released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), using the most blunt language to date about the need to confront America's obesity epidemic. The guidelines also include changes that reduce recommended sodium and trans fats levels.

But to Alere, a global company that provides industry-leading health and wellness programs, the most important takeaway is the emphasis on empowering individuals to make changes in behavior. Alere encourages health plans and employers seeking ways to improve health to look beyond the words and focus on practical ways to encourage action. Below is a look at the top four ways the dietary guidelines can encourage practical lifestyle changes:

1. "Empower individuals and families." People are more likely to make lasting changes in behavior if they are truly motivated. The new guidelines emphasize ways to focus on the positive aspects of adopting a healthier lifestyle, building skills to help people "heighten enjoyment of preparing and consuming healthy foods." This includes activities such as gardening, cooking together and eating as a family.

2. Promote "behavior change through environmental strategies." The guidelines acknowledge that many individuals lack the knowledge or motivation to change behavior without support. Given this, it's critical that organizations embrace changes that can make environments more conducive to healthier lifestyles.

3. Advocating a "healthy eating pattern." The guidelines also acknowledge that rigid prescriptions simply don't work when encouraging dietary changes. They emphasize flexible "eating patterns" that accommodate personal preference, cost and availability. Specific dietary recommendations include:

* Mediterranean-style diets: The guidelines cite extensive research on Mediterranean-style diets that emphasize vegetable, fruits and nuts, olive oil and whole grains, with only small amounts of meat products.
* Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods: The guidelines go into detail about how nutrient-dense foods can help individuals limit their calories, particularly from solid fats and added sugars.

4. "Set the stage for lifelong healthy eating, activity and weight management." The guidelines cite obesity prevention as one of the most urgent public health issues in America. They note that "lifelong habits are developed throughout childhood," and focus on ways to support healthier approach for families. Alere has taken the lead in helping organizations work proactively to provide tools to combat childhood obesity with its Healthy Kids Program. This six-week online program provides parents with specific strategies they can use to improve their family's health.

"When you consider the state of our nation's health, blunt talk and specific guidelines are necessary," says Heather Zeitz, R.D., vice president of health content and programming for Alere. "But the new guidelines demonstrate that the most powerful way to change lifestyle behaviors is with a coordinated, participant-centered approach. At Alere, we recognize the scope of the challenge, but are hopeful that the USDA's call to action will help unite the cause for encouraging real changes that can have a real impact."

To show its commitment to healthy eating, Alere will feature live cooking demonstrations by celebrity chef Carla Hall, a finalist on the TV show Top Chef and now competing on Top Chef's All Stars, at the World Health Care Congress April 4-6 in Washington, D.C. An advocate for healthy cooking, Carla supports Michelle Obama's child obesity campaign by demonstrating healthy cooking in school cafeterias. She will perform a series of demonstrations on April 4 and 5 in booth #203.

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