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UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services

Statement of Eric J. Hentges, Executive Director
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Before the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development,
Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

March 8, 2007

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, and members of the Subcommittee, for allowing me this opportunity to present testimony in support of the Administration’s budget for fiscal year 2008.

With the Nation facing significant public health issues related to the quality of the American diet, I believe that the outcome-based efforts of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion are key to promoting more healthful eating behaviors and lifestyles across the Nation. By developing and promoting dietary guidance that links scientific research to the nutrition needs of consumers, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion plays a critical role in how USDA meets its strategic goal to improve the Nation’s nutrition and health. The work of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion also contributes to the goals of the President’s Healthier US initiative.

Healthful Lifestyles: Goal of Federal Nutrition Guidance and Education

Recent studies of America’s dietary and physical activity behaviors reveal disturbing trends. First, a combination of poor diet and sedentary lifestyle not only undermines quality of life and productivity, but also contributes to the preventable causes of death each year in the United States.

Second, overweight and obesity are contributing factors to problems associated with reduced quality of life. Recent statistics are staggering: 65 percent of adults (ages 20 to 74) are overweight, with 31 percent among this group classified as obese. Children and adolescents have not escaped this unhealthy trend: among 6- to 19-year-olds, 16 percent (over 9 million) are overweight—triple the proportion in 1980. Another 15 percent are at risk of becoming overweight. With estimates indicating that obesity-related medical expenditures in the United States reached $75 billion in 2003, the health of Americans is a serious and growing concern that must be addressed.

Third, the lack of physical activity has been associated with a number of conditions, including diabetes, overweight and obesity, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. Supporting evidence indicates that less than half (46 percent) of the U.S. population meets the recommended level of physical activity. USDA’s development and implementation of Federal nutrition guidance—including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the MyPyramid Food Guidance System that recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days—are critical in helping to curtail and eventually reverse some of these disturbing trends.

Preparation Required for 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

In January 2005, the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released the sixth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a science-based blueprint for promoting good nutrition and health. The Guidelines are the basis for Federal nutrition policy and provide advice for Americans, ages two years and older, about food choices that promote health and prevent disease, set standards for the nutrition assistance programs, guide nutrition research and education efforts, and are the basis for USDA nutrition promotion activities. To promote the messages of the Guidelines, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion uses on-line interactive tools, as well as a variety of print materials, to reach the general public and targeted audiences.

All nutrition assistance programs, a multiplicity of nutrition education and promotion programs Government-wide, as well as private sector nutrition education and promotion, use the Guidelines as their focal point. It is critical that the Guidelines be both scientifically up-to-date and in touch with the realities of contemporary living. Congress has mandated, in Public Law 101-445, that USDA and DHHS review the Guidelines at least every five years. Both Departments alternate administrative leadership of this review. USDA has the administrative lead for the 2010 Guidelines.

The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has already begun to prepare planning strategies for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. USDA will use these strategies to lead interagency coordination and to implement a new evidence-based system that will be used by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee when reviewing the most recent scientific literature. Historically, this committee has developed dietary recommendations through the examination of scientific research by using a “critical review” approach. However, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will use a more rigorous and transparent approach that is known as an “evidence-based review.” This evidence-based approach has been used for many years in the medical community and is recognized as the gold standard for developing public health guidance. When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee meets, it will for the first time use an evidence-based approach in developing dietary guidance. The result will be that policymakers, opinion leaders and the general public can have increased confidence in the dietary guidance developed by the Federal Government.

MyPyramid Encourages Healthful Diets and Lifestyles

In April 2005, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion launched a new interactive Web site devoted to dietary guidance called MyPyramid.gov. The public’s use of MyPyramid tools has exceeded expectations and continues to increase. Visitors to MyPyramid.gov use a number of interactive tools including: MyPyramid Tracker, MyPyramid Plan, Inside MyPyramid, MyPyramid for Kids, and MiPirámide (the Spanish-language version). As a result, MyPyramid.gov has had over 2.6 billion hits, mostly from general consumers, students, and educators and teachers, making it one of the most popular government Web sites in history. Today, there are over 2.1 million registered users of MyPyramid Tracker, the assessment tool for dietary and physical activity status.

In an effort to maintain and improve MyPyramid.gov according to consumer response, the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion instituted an online survey for individuals visiting the Web site. Most survey respondents indicated that the information at MyPyramid.gov prompted them to take positive actions toward improving their health. However, the high volume of Web traffic and the limited financial resources available for hosting, maintenance, and enhancements are seriously threatening the future viability of this widely used Web site.

The President’s budget requests $5 million for the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. This budget would allow USDA to prepare for the tasks associated with the review and development of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Planning and preparation have begun, but we must increase our efforts significantly in 2008 to ensure a successful completion. Specifically, these requested funds would be used to (1) develop a fully operational evidence-based system that ensures Federal nutrition guidance is based on sound scientific evidence, and (2) support the administrative functions that are essential to conducting the business of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

In addition, the requested funds for MyPyramid.gov would provide for (1) the maintenance and upgrade of related computer hardware and software, (2) increased operational costs associated with high volume usage of the Web site, and (3) developmental costs associated with improvements to MyPyramid educational tools. Finally, funds would be used to (4) maintain the on-line evaluation survey for MyPyramid.gov to ascertain whether the on-line tools meet the expectations of the public.

With the support of the House Committee on Appropriations, we look forward to continuing to build and better promote personalized and individualized nutrition guidance tools—such as MyPyramid.gov—that reach millions of Americans. Your support will help set the foundation for future development of nutrition policy that is vital to addressing the growing problems associated with overweight and obesity and the related health challenges in America.

I thank the Committee for the opportunity to present this written testimony.

 

Last modified: 01/25/2012