Our country is facing a growing epidemic of chronic, largely preventable disease affecting 117 million Americans. Sadly, that number is projected to increase unless we as a nation take immediate action.
The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee helped guide the US Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services' final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The report's most compelling point identifies a primarily plant-based diet as "more health-promoting and associated with lesser environmental impact." The recommended dietary pattern emphasizes increased consumption of vegetables, fruits, plant-based proteins and whole grains with a decrease in consumption of foods high in calories and saturated fat, most commonly found in animal-based foods, along with added sugar and refined grains.
By moving these draft suggestions into final recommendations, our government has the potential to impact America's future - and our waistlines. One-third of American children are overweight or obese, with the increased risk of joining the two-thirds of US adult population in that category. Being outside of one's ideal body weight increases the likelihood of developing preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and certain cancers.
More than 31 million children each school day participate in the National School Lunch Program. With the last dietary guidelines approval in 2010, came the most dramatic changes to the program nutrition standards in decades. As a dietitian working in the schools at the time, I witnessed kids consuming more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on a daily basis. Initial studies are now reporting an overall decrease in entrée plate waste along with an increase in total fruit selection with the implementation in 2012.
Approving the 2015 dietary recommendations as they're written will promote continued momentum within the National School Lunch Program to do right by our children.
Peer-reviewed studies in the Journal of the (then) American Dietetic Association, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Journal of Pediatrics and a report from the American Heart Association all support that eating more plant-based meals can help improve weight management and overall health for children and adults.
Many institutions across the country already recognize the importance of introducing plant-based meal options to our youth by advocating for Meatless Monday on their lunch menus and in cafeterias. Encouraging kids to choose tasty foods that happen to be meatless even just one day a week can have a beneficial impact on their health for a lifetime.
Not only will our children's health be improved by approval of the recommendations, the health of their future environment will benefit as well. Evidence suggests the current US diet leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use and deforestation, water use and energy use.A plant-strong diet can protect the environment and decrease the number of animals being bred confined on cruel factory farms.
The Humane Society of the United States advocates for compassionate eating - or the three Rs: "reducing" or "replacing" consumption of animal products, and "refining" our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.
As a registered dietitian and former school food service professional, I'm urging our government to follow the expert recommendations of those they appointed for the best interest of our country. We're facing a large-scale health epidemic that cannot be corrected with current practices. It is imperative that our health and the health of our environment rank more important than the large-scale industry interests.
Karla Dumas RDN, is a Registered Dietitian with The Humane Society of the United States.