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U.S. food guidelines should focus on fat, panel says

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New U.S. nutritional guidelines should focus on keeping Americans from getting even fatter, experts said on Tuesday, with an emphasis not only on healthy foods but on finding ways to help Americans eat better and exercise more.

With two-thirds of U.S. adults overweight or obese, the aim is to help people cut calories while getting the right nutrients, Rear Admiral Penelope Slade-Sawyer of the Health and Human Services Department told reporters in a telephone briefing.

"This report is unprecedented in addressing the obesity epidemic ... and the obesity epidemic is the single biggest threat to public health," Slade-Sawyer said.

This is especially true for children, among whom obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years.

"Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium," the report said.

The report from more than a dozen experts of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, was released at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-DGACReport.htm for a 30-day public comment period.

HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will then draw up new guidelines, as required by Congress every five years.

The guidelines set standards for U.S. school breakfasts and lunches and other federal programs. The administration of President Barack Obama has launched an effort to fight childhood obesity with better eating and more exercise.

PLANT-BASED DIET

The committee's recommendations emphasize a plant-based diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and moderate amounts of lean meat, poultry and eggs.

They also suggest decreasing sodium from the current level of less than 2,300 milligrams a day to less than 1,500 and said Americans need to phase out processed grains like white flour.

"There is a call for drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages. There is a call to decrease saturated fat from 10 percent to 7 percent of daily calories. It is sort of a graduated approach to decrease the caloric intake of the American public," Slade-Sawyer said.

And it veered into public policy, something avoided in past reports.

"The daunting public health challenge is to accomplish population-wide adoption of healthful dietary patterns within the context of powerful influences that currently promote unhealthy consumer choices, behaviors, and lifestyles," the report said.

"Primary prevention of obesity must begin in childhood. This is the single most powerful public health approach to combating and reversing America's obesity epidemic over the long term."

Families need to learn how to cook healthier food, and kids need recess, it said.

"For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods," the report added.

It suggested development of fish farms to help people afford fish.

It also noted there are no short-cuts to good nutrition. "A daily multivitamin/mineral supplement does not offer health benefits to healthy Americans," the report said.

(Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Vicki Allen)

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