Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Moderation: A Vague Recommendation

Today I read a research article written in 2002.  The study involved the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) 1995.  It assessed the awareness and knowledge of the recommendations in one specific geographical location.  The design of the study was a telephone survey.  The people telephoned lived in a few zip code locations in one state.  The results were not promising.  (citation)

The majority of the 400 people who answered the questions had no idea that the government issued nutritional advice, could not name them (the Dietary Guidelines for Americans), and when they were aware of guidelines, they often incorrectly identified them.  On average, the respondents provided two right answers.  For 1995, there were 13 specific recommendations.  

The authors were concerned that the guidelines, in existence since 1980 and updated every five years, were not changing anyone's behavior.  Their particular study did not measure behavior but I hope to do so in my research career.

What is worth repeating are some of the specific limitations and suggestions that were offered in the article.  They are similar to issues I have discussed over the years, though I had not read this article before today.  

Consumers are confused.  They do not (in general) understand the (%) percent recommendations, i.e % of calories from fat or % of DV (daily value) that are promoted and identified on labels.  The scientists suggest that the guidelines use language that the public uses instead.  For example, state specifically that one needs less that 300mg of cholesterol a day, or 65 grams of total fat (a number in line with the 1995 recommendation of 30% fat (obsolete now) instead.  They caution against vagueness with this statement:
 Health practitioners are urged to avoid providing nonspecific and vague advice to consumers such as "balance" and "moderate."
 What we tell people should be direct and simple.  This reminds me of something a man said to me on Saturday.  I was in the trail parking lot waiting for my friend and he was waiting for his brother.  He saw my Eat Smart Move More sign in the car window and asked ME, "How does one eat smart?"  HA, he asked ME.  

He shared that he had done well with his weight previously.  He was drinking wheat grass and lots of carrot juice that he made from his own juicer.  He doesn't do that anymore.  Really? Too complicated?  Weird even?  Nothing in the recommendations advises one to drink their calories.. NOTHING.  And in fact, recommends against too much fruit juice.

 Keenan, D. P., AbuSabha, R., & Robinson, N. G. (2002). Consumers’ understanding of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: insights into the future. Health education & behavior, 29(1), 124-135.

No comments: