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Sources: Roni Schwartz, 785-532-5576, rmschwartz@k-state.edu;
and Kevin Sauer, 785-532-5581, ksauer@k-state.edu
Website: http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov
News release prepared by: Jane Marshall, 785-532-1519, jpm2@k-state.edu

Monday, March 7, 2011

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: DIETICIAN SAYS NEW DIETARY GUIDELINES FOCUS ON BARRIERS TO HEALTHIER EATING

MANHATTAN -- The new federal dietary guidelines released recently spotlight the problem of obesity and echo what Kansas State University's Roni Schwartz teaches her students.

"It's time for us to work together to develop partnerships with the food industry to find solutions that will benefit all," said the instructor of dietetics.

Schwartz, a registered dietitian, says the new guidelines validate that being overweight or obese is a real health concern.

The government estimates that a third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese, often called the No. 1 health problem in the country. The report maintains that Americans can live healthier lives and contribute to a lowering of health care costs by following the guidelines, Schwartz said.

"The guidelines also recognize that many people in this country face significant barriers that make eating healthier and being more active a challenge," she said.

For example, some communities lack adequate park space, walking paths and community centers, which create barriers to regular, safe physical activity, Schwartz said. A family in a rural area may not have access to a variety of fresh produce year round. Limited cooking skills cause some individuals and families to eat more fast foods or higher sodium convenience foods. Families in economically depressed urban areas often don’t have grocery stores in their neighborhoods or near bus routes.

Barriers like these impact the ability of individuals and families to make the changes that would protect and improve their health, Schwartz said.

"Communities need targeted interventions that are designed to address and improve the environment where people live, work and play. The 2010 dietary guidelines, based on evidence-based dietary advice, promote those interventions that are relevant to specific communities and are sustainable over time," she said.

Recognizing that people don't change their eating and physical activity habits in a vacuum, the guidelines call upon individuals, families, schools, communities, restaurants, food producers and food manufacturers to work together, Schwartz said.

The guidelines also are important for teaching future dietitians.

"We teach dietetic students the role of social and ecological influences on behavior choices. We teach that individual and community solutions must be flexible, suitable, simple and sustainable. It seems to me the 2010 guidelines support that," Schwartz said.

She pointed to a classroom example. Vickie James and Claudia Holmbaum, directors of the nonprofit Healthy Kids Challenge, helped the dietetics program create two courses that teach dietetics students how to clearly understand community, program and target audience needs, wants, barriers and resources. Students then learn to use that assessment information to determine interventions that work in both the short term and long term, Schwartz said.

In one of the courses, Communication Competencies in Dietetics Practicum, students work with community mentors to create solutions for targeted audience needs.

"What we're trying to do is teach students to look at the total environmental picture," said Kevin Sauer, assistant professor of dietetics at K-State and a registered dietitian.

To make changes in that environment, students learn to examine school meal systems, encourage families to realize the important of family meals, encourage more sensitivity to the issue by food manufacturers and understand the cost of change, Sauer said.

"All these potential changes have cost attached," he said. "Dietitians face tough decisions whether they work in medical nutrition therapy or universities or businesses -- and so do the people they counsel. The assumption is that individuals and communities have to spend money to eat healthier. That isn't always true."

Not all nutrition information people get is consumer friendly, Schwartz said. "People get information from many sources; much of it has a product-directed slant. The guidelines should help. They have taken evidence-based research and put it in practical language. We need to help people understand the wide array of choices," she said.

She gave an example of the concept of dessert: the person who says, "Oh, I don't eat desserts," but starts the day with a mocha and a scone, which might equal five servings of dessert. "The guidelines aren’t asking people to eliminate their favorite coffee drinks and snacks but to reduce the amount and the frequency," she said.

"It's a switch out, not an add on," Sauer said. To make that mocha-scone breakfast healthier, you don't add a banana, you substitute a banana for the scone.

You can't just hand a person a brochure about how to eat right. Health care providers must guide and listen, not just educate, Schwartz said. "Dietitians listen to individuals and families to try to understand the barriers they face. Then we can help them become their own advocates for healthy change in their homes and in their communities."

The updated guidelines are in the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, which is available at http://www.dietaryguidelines.gov. The guidelines were announced by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.