By Sandy K. Johnson

Every five years, the U.S. government develops dietary guidelines designed to help people improve their eating habits and to serve as the official guidepost for federal food programs.

You are what you eat, and for many Americans, their poor eating habits lead to diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems. If people made better food choices, it would save billions of dollars in health care costs.

With too much fat, salt and red meat on our plates, “We’re eating too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good stuff,” said Jessica Fanzo, associate professor of food and agriculture policy at Johns Hopkins University. “Our diets are killing us.”

Over the next two years, an advisory committee of experts in nutrition and health will review the latest research and summarize their findings for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, which in turn will write the 2020-2025 guidelines. Target date for publication is end of 2020. Until then, the 2015-2020 guidelines are in force.

Eve Essery Stoody, lead nutritionist for USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, is a veteran of the process. She is providing expertise for the 2020 advisory committee (list of members here), as she did during the 2015 and 2010 rounds. She said the advisory committee is examining new evidence and research on six sub-topics: pregnancy and lactation; birth to 24 months; dietary patterns; beverages and added sugars; dietary fats and seafood; and frequency of eating.

Five advisory committee hearings are open to the public and media. The first was in March. Upcoming meetings are scheduled July 10-11 and Oct. 24-25 in 2019, and Jan. 23-24 and March 12-13 in 2020. Online participation is an option. Public comments can be submitted and are also part of the public record for reporters to review.

What’s the point of the Dietary Guidelines if Americans largely ignore them? Stoody said they serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition programs and policies, and inform the work of health professionals.