U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Based on a consensus of scientific opinion, the guidelines recommend an eating plan that includes a balanced diet and reduced intake of sugar, salt and fat. During the Carter administration, "Food" was published to elaborate on the guidelines and give recipes that would contribute to a healthy diet. The Carter USDA allocated money for publication of "Food II," which explained how to lower fat and cholesterol in the diet; the Reagan USDA decided not to print it.
Consumer advocates, nutritionists and even people within the USDA reached a nearly unanimous consensus that USDA support for the dietary guidelines and government nutrition policy is lacking. "Support for the dietary guidelines is obviously almost nil," says Dr. Mark Hegsted, administrator of the (now defunct) Human Nutrition Center during the Carter years. "I think the current administration just wishes [the guidelines] would go away."
Jean Mayer calls the guidelines "perfectly reasonable," adding "I didn't like the fact that they've been eliminated."
"The dietary guidelines are in the public domain," says Assistant Secretary Jarratt, adding that they can be used or reprinted by anyone and that the USDA "can't force-feed" the public with the guidelines.
But many consumer advocates assert it's the government's responsibility to interpret and explain the guidelines; to go beyond recommending that Americans quit eating too much sugar, salt and fat and explain what too much means. Some say the USDA has attempted to "placate commodity groups," by refusing to publish books that explain the guidelines.
* Nutrition Education and Training: This program was designed to integrate nutrition education in public schools by coordinating nutrition lessons in the classroom with management lessons in the school cafeterias. Geoffrey Becker, editor of the Community Nutrition Institute's "Weekly Report," says "the USDA is shooting itself in the foot by not continuing the [NET] funding . . . On the one hand they're trying to count pickle relish as a vegetable and with the other they are taking money away from NET ."
But Jarratt says the program was not coordinated well and that "the administration is not committed to [it] as a federal program." All information and educational materials developed by individual school districts remain in those districts, she says, so the program is better left to local governments and to "private sector" support.
* Human nutrition centers: There are three nutrition research centers across the country. The newest one, affiliated with Tufts University, focuses on aging and is scheduled to open Nov. 5. Jean Mayer, who is president of Tufts, says the administration is "really being helpful" in throwing its support behind nutrition research.
* Government publications: USDA publications that used to be distributed free or at low cost now cost as much as the average paperback. For instance, "The Sodium Content of Your Food," a 43-page booklet that lists milligrams of salt in common foods, costs $4.25; "Ideas for Better Eating," a book of menu and recipe suggestions that support the dietary guidelines, now costs $4. The USDA no longer reprints the dietary guidelines, because 7.5 million copies have been distributed and they have been reprinted frequently (USDA material may be reprinted without permission).