Americans believe that nutrition, physical activity and dietary lifestyle influences health. A number of people know that eating well translates considerably to good health. However, most of the information available today is usually focused on what not to eat. There are diverse sources of information on what constitutes healthy dietary lifestyle. Most of these sources promote not eating a particular type of food, for example, alcohol, sugars and fats. There is limited information on what exactly to eat. The American Dietetic Association proposes a total diet approach in the paper. It asserts that the 'overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of a healthful eating style'. This implies that all classes of food can be eaten but this must be done in moderation. It should also be combined with exercise or regular physical activity.
Federal Nutrition Guidelines support the total diet approach to healthful eating. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, MyPyramid are two examples of guidelines that Americans can use to get the right combination of food that will promote their health. The Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) emphasizes eating various classes of food in moderation but reduction in salt, sugar, high cholesterol oil and alcohol. The message of the total diet approach should be communicated to the public by food and nutrition specialists. The method of communication usually involves combination of a variety of advocacy, health communication and promotion tools in a way consumer can understand and apply to their daily lives.
The core of this message is that a balance of foods is advised, rather than one or two foods. The message does not oversimplify food as either completely bad or absolutely good. The paper shows that the choice of food type is influenced by certain factors. These include taste and food preferences, nutrition education, convenience, abundance of food with healthful properties, and disease. Others are time, cultural practices, purchasing power, attitude and beliefs, and media, product safety can influence what we eat.
The Association proposes in the paper the use of behavior-oriented theories for diet and nutrition communication. These include knowledge-attitude-belief theory, health belief theory, social Learning theory, social Marketing theory, and trans-theoretical approach. Any of this theory can be adopted as the basis for health information campaigns depending on unique needs of the person or community receiving the information.
The World Health Statistics 2012 by the World Health Organization suggests that there is a rise in the incidence of hypertension and diabetes globally. 1 in 3 people have hypertension while 1 in 10 people have diabetes. Obesity is highest in the Americas and lowest in South East Asia. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) especially diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are responsible for two-third of all global deaths. These diseases are closely related to diet and physical activity. This report shows that the paradigm shift will be from infectious diseases to non-communicable diseases in the next few years. The gravity of this problem necessitated a high-level United Nations meeting last September.
What is the relevance of this new information to the people? It will drive them to evaluate their lifestyle particularly their eating habit, exercise regimen and daily activities that can predispose them to any of the NCDs. People want to know what they can eat well, to live well and live long.
However information available from various sources is confusing. It is therefore important to provide healthful information to the general public on what constitutes a healthy diet. This is what is contained in the report by the American Dietetic Association. It does not contradict federal guidelines; it complements it. It provides adequate evidence-based information on the appropriate approach to diet and nutrition. The evidence includes contemporary studies on the subject of choice of food and recommendations from the US Department of Health and Health Service, and Food and Drug Administration.
The total diet approach is consistent with the balanced diet, taught in basic science classes in high schools. Nutritionists encourage people to take, in moderate amount, all classes of food such as carbohydrate, proteins, fats and oil, vitamins and minerals, roughages and water. The Harvard Eating Plate is one example of a specific dietary plan that supports this position.
I strongly support the position of the association that a plate with the right combination of the various classes of food is appropriate for a healthy lifestyle.
Position of the American Dietetic Association: Total Diet Approach to Communicating Food and Nutrition Information, ADA Reports, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2007; 107: 1224-1232.
Harvard Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid. Accessed from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid/on 3rd February, 2013.
World Health Statistics, World Health Organization. Accessed from http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2012/en/ 3rd February, 2013.