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The Dietary Guidelines for Americans: What It Is, What It Is Not

The main purpose of the Dietary Guidelines is to inform the development of Federal food, nutrition, and health policies and programs. The primary audiences are policymakers, as well as nutrition and health professionals, not the general public. The Dietary Guidelines is a critical tool for professionals to help Americans make healthy choices in their daily lives to help prevent chronic disease and enjoy a healthy diet. It serves as the evidence-based foundation for nutrition education materials that are developed by the Federal Government for the public. For example, Federal dietary guidance publications are required by law to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines. It also is used to inform USDA and HHS food programs, such as USDA's National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, which feed more than 30 million children each school day, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which uses the Dietary Guidelines as the scientific underpinning for its food packages and nutrition education program with about 8 million beneficiaries. In HHS, the Administration on Aging implements the Dietary Guidelines through the Older Americans Act Nutrition Services programs (i.e., nutrition programs for older adults), with about 5,000 community-based nutrition service providers who together serve more than 900,000 meals a day across the United States. Other Departments, such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, also use the Dietary Guidelines to inform programs. The Dietary Guidelines also may be used to inform the development of programs, policies, and communication by audiences other than the document’s principal audiences. These audiences, who share the common goal of serving the general public, include businesses, schools, community groups, media, the food industry, and State and local governments.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines translates science into succinct, food-based guidance that can be relied upon to help Americans choose foods that provide a healthy and enjoyable diet. Its recommendations are ultimately intended to help individuals improve and maintain overall health and reduce the risk of chronic disease—its focus is disease prevention. The Dietary Guidelines is not intended to be used to treat disease. Regardless of an individual’s current health status, almost all people in the United States could benefit from shifting choices to better support healthy eating patterns. Thus, the Dietary Guidelines may be used or adapted by medical and nutrition professionals to encourage healthy eating patterns to patients.