But they aren't certain they'll serve much more of a purpose than other recommendations.
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
ST. LOUIS -- Michelle Horton read accounts about the new dietary guidelines released Wednesday by the government with a resounding ho-hum.
"All of us who are healthy already know about eating in moderation and exercising," Horton said. She'd just finished a workout at She's The One Fitness in downtown St. Louis. She was returning to her job as a financial analyst.
"It's good to be there, but people need to take responsibility for their own health," she said. "It's already on food labels, but people need to pay more attention to what they put in their bodies."
Horton's reaction may be the public's reaction in general, nutritionists say. Generally, the new food guidelines don't say much new -- they say it more clearly and more specifically.
Nutritionists were happy to see the attention that the release of the guidelines brought to nutrition and health. After all, more than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. And among children, obesity is blamed for the increase in diabetes as well as hypertension.
Cindy Brenneke, owner of She's the One Fitness, said that at a recent health fair more than 80 percent of the people who asked for body fat tests tested 40 percent or higher, a dangerous level. "I tested a 10-year-old child who was 38 percent body fat," Brenneke said. "His mother asked what can she do? All he does is eat.
"The guidelines are a step in the right direction."
While it's clear something needs to be done to help Americans lose weight, nutritionists aren't certain the guidelines will serve much more of a purpose than any other recommendations. But if the recommendations can be understood, that's a benefit in itself, they said.
And that's the best part about the guidelines: They're clear. The guidelines now use measurements people can understand -- cups and teaspoons rather than servings and milligrams.
"For years, no one knew what [a serving] was," said Amy Olson, instructor and registered dietitian at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. "In the past it said a serving of vegetables. Did that mean a slice of lettuce on your sandwich? Some people talked themselves into thinking that counted. Now it says two and a half cups of vegetables a day, and that will help."
William Hart, associate professor of nutrition at St. Louis University, also likes the clarity. "It gives you a more detailed breakdown by calorie level. That's good for people because the other guidelines are kind of vague. It's a good start."
Connie Diekman, chief nutritionist for Washington University, liked that the guidelines specify what to eat and how much, and uses easier-to-understand measurements such as cups and teaspoons
"These guidelines are more specific than previous ones, and they make it very clear that calories count," Diekman said. "The new guidelines specify what types of fruits and vegetables, designate a minimum amount of whole grains and call for low-fat dairy.
"These steps are important recognitions of the growing body of science that indicates more plant foods, along with low-fat dairy, promotes health and may aid weight loss."
Still, the nutritionists fear that the guidelines for exercise might turn people off.
The new guidelines recommend 30 to 90 minutes a day "to promote health, psychological well-being, and a healthy body weight." And they say these times are "above usual activity" and that people should engage in as rigorous-intensity exercise as they can handle.
Dr. Sam Klein, medical director for the Center for Human Nutrition, a weight management program at Washington University, was concerned that the exercise guidelines re-enforce the misconception that exercise alone results in weight loss.