October 5, 2012 by locklearcr
There are several challenges that the USDA faces when it comes to creating and communicating the dietary guidelines. I think one of the big issues with communication could be the low literacy, especially health literacy, among our population in this country. With such dismal rates, it decreases the chances of Americans even being able to understand and apply the information when it is presented to them; whether in words, writing, or pictures.
Beyond reading comprehension, the issue of computer and internet access can also come into play. It is too often assumed that all families have a computer or access to one, and can additionally access the internet. Although it probably holds true for most, some people will still ‘slip through the cracks’. And along the lines of literacy, computer literacy is a much more recent issue, and doesn’t appear to have been addressed at an effective level as of yet. Many people are unaware of how to locate online resources. In the instance of the dietary guidelines, it is difficult to imagine other routes of information dissemination besides the web.
Also, the picture of MyPlate itself is very open to interpretation. This could lead people to view it in completely different ways; it lacks numerical values, as well as examples of the types of foods that fall into those specific food groups. Initially, perhaps this was thought to be a positive factor in that it could be readily adapted by various cultures, beliefs, etc. However, it appears that has not been the case.
Another barrier to communicating the dietary guidelines is assuring Americans of the feasibility of adherence to these recommendations. Besides cost, feasibility relates to the physical activity recommendations as well. It’s difficult to recommend certain types of physical activity when many households don’t have the access that type of environment. As much as the guidelines should be broadly applicable, they also need to be specific and catered to a variety of living situations.
It also seems that the general ‘feel’ is that healthier foods are not affordable, or inaccessible to most families. Fresh produce, whole grains, and ideal protein choices are thought to be more expensive than the other, more refined options.
Given the current budgetary and political climate, some of these challenges could be dealt with. Under Obama, it appears that more attention is being paid to the poor nutrition status of millions of Americans. Funding for programs that provide supplemental nutrition assistance (SNAP) has improved markedly over the years. This has the potential to improve accessibility of healthier foods to low income families across the U.S., while also providing proper education to be successful in the long term. More and more attention is being drawn to chronic disease and health statuses, especially among low income families with children. Hopefully, this will bring positive and necessary changes within schools and in the outside built environment. As more money is being provided to such programs, more people can be reached, and participation in these programs will rise.