WASHINGTON – Americans need to spend more time working out and less time chowing down.
That's the conclusion of a federal advisory panel looking at ways to get people to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (search), holding its final meeting Wednesday, called for some changes in current nutrition recommendations. The tougher task is motivating people to work toward a healthy weight by being more physically active and watching what they eat.
It won't be easy. Federal researchers already have found that almost two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and more than three-fifths do not get enough regular physical activity.
"We've got good science," said Eric Hentges, executive director of the Agriculture Department's (search) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which is responsible for updating the department's familiar food pyramid (search). "Our challenge is to implement this into good policy."
The committee is proposing only moderate changes to the federal nutrition guidelines adopted in 2000, such as urging people to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. The recommendations also place more emphasis on exercise.
The findings are to be released early next year in tandem with the update of the Agriculture Department's illustration of those principals, known as the Food Guide Pyramid.
The 13-member panel of experts came up with nine recommendations, including:
--Control caloric intake.
--Consume a variety of foods within and among the basic food groups.
--Eat whole grain products rather than refined grains to reduce risks of heart disease and other conditions.
The recommendations also call for people to avoid potentially artery-clogging trans fats, reduce total daily salt to 2,300 milligrams and eat more fruits and vegetables.
The servings of fruits and vegetables would be expanded to five to 13, from the current five to nine. The expansion would be part of the committee's plan to allow more room for individual differences, so people with high-revving metabolisms, such as active teenagers, could eat more.
The guidelines also put a strong emphasis on physical activity, calling on people to perform at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days but to possibly double that if they want to lose weight.
Getting people to apply the proposed principals will be a challenge. While about 80 percent of people know about the current pyramid, less than 5 percent follow its suggestions, Hentges said.
Hentges said the government would use its nutrition agencies, such as the food stamp programs, to get out the word. The government also has hired communications consultants to make sure consumers understand the messages.
Some food manufacturers have already gotten on board, Hentges said, taking steps such as removing trans fats from their products.
The committee will submit its recommendations to the secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. The public then will have 30 days to submit comments, which will then be reviewed.