Dietary Guidelines Advisory Commitee’s Fifth Meeting: Key Takeaways and What’s to Come 

Written by Kate Stanley, dietetic intern at Virginia Tech University

The fifth Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) meeting provided a stark reminder of the difficult task at hand for this voluntary group of experts in distilling available evidence into recommendations for Americans. The Committee’s discussions across the two days demonstrated the challenges associated with balancing aspirations based on food pattern modeling and analysis with the limited time remaining to deliver their recommendations, as well as consumer behavior realities.  

Despite these challenges, one thing was abundantly clear: this DGAC has been busy! In a whirlwind two days, the Committee shared 53 new draft conclusion statements, food pattern modeling results from analyses of more than 350,000 data points, and a draft infographic on how health equity has been incorporated into the 2025 evidence review.  

In honor of the fifth meeting, here are five key takeaways that have us waiting on the edge of our seats for the 6th meeting and the DGAC Scientific Report, which they are aiming to deliver by late October: 

  1. Flexibilities or modifications to the Dietary Guidelines-recommended dietary patterns may offer nutritional benefits for some population groups.  

    The Food Pattern Modeling Subcommittee underwent a series of exercises to assess the implications of changing the quantity of certain food groups and subgroups (i.e., modifications) or of allowing for emphasis of one food group or subgroup over others based on consumer preferences (i.e., flexibilities) within the Healthy U.S. Style dietary pattern and the Healthy Vegetarian dietary pattern. While the DGAC made it clear much more analysis needed to be done, they noted these recommendations for potential modifications and flexibilities in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) 2025-2030 are intended to reflect Americans’ food preferences, cultural norms, and food access.  

    1. Americans’ eating habits remain far from alignment with DGA recommendations. 

    The Healthy Eating Index (HEI)-2020 scores show that dietary intake does not align with recommendations in any sociodemographic group. In fact, Americans receive a failing grade when it comes to our diet quality, with the overall HEI score for Americans 2 years of age and older at 58 out of 100. Americans’ intake patterns remained largely unchanged from the previous Committee’s analysis, so this DGAC identified no new nutrients of public health concern. Potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and fiber remain nutrients of concern for underconsumption, while sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat remain overconsumed in Americans 2 years and older. The DGAC’s discussion left us wondering: What do these intake data represent? Is there a need for greater education and behavior change? Is the food environment overwhelming Americans’ intentions to follow the DGAs?   

    1. Limited data drives conclusion statement on ultra-processed foods. 

    For the first time, a Committee graded evidence related to the consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF). Given the lack of rigorous, published data on UPF intake, the Committee developed a conclusion statement that limited evidence suggests that dietary patterns with higher amounts of foods classified as UPF consumed by children, adolescents, adults, and older adults are associated with greater adiposity (fat mass, waist circumference, body mass index [BMI]) and risk of overweight. The Committee’s lively discussion on this topic indicated that this topic will live on and be debated among subsequent DGACs.  

    1. There is a lack of rigorous, consistent diet and health research to inform the DGAs, particularly related to early child feeding and eating behaviors. 

    Of the 53 draft conclusion statements shared at this fifth meeting, nearly half (25 out of 53) were not assigned grades due to the lack of evidence. For instance, rigorous data was lacking for the implications of meal and snack frequency and timing on energy intake and health, so much so that the committee could not draw conclusion statements for most population groups. As one Commitee member noted, “data is rich, but it is not answering the questions that we are trying to answer.”  

    1. Parallel efforts to address sustainability and update Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) values are on the horizon. 

    As part of the DGAC meeting, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided updates on multiple adjacent, coordinated government-led initiatives. This includes a Federal Workgroup convened to discuss a potential pathway for incorporating sustainability into the DGA process in the future (but not in this cycle), or through other activities. USDA also shared that systematic reviews are being conducted to assess the evidence related to health outcomes and intake of protein, dietary fat, carbohydrates, and fiber. These reviews will then inform efforts led by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to determine whether updates are needed to current DRI values. This follows NASEM’s release of new DRIs for energy last year – the first update since 2005! 

    What’s to Come 

    The sixth and final DGAC meeting is set for September 25-26, 2024, and we are eagerly waiting to hear the final Food Pattern Modeling findings and conclusion statements. Until then, we’ll continue to unpack the wealth of information shared in the more than 100 conclusion statements drafted by the 2025-2030 DGAC to-date! 

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