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College of Health and Human Sciences

Schwartz, Sauer say new dietary guidelines realistic, dietetics program echoes strategies

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010

Roni Schwartz, who teaches the next generation of dietitians at K-State, praised the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released recently: “The report offers a pragmatic look at how we can make inroads into improving health…and make it sustainable.”

First, she said, the guidelines validate that overweight and obesity are real health concerns.

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 7th edition of the report maintains that Americans can live healthier lives and contribute to a lowering of health-care costs by following the guidelines.

Second, “the guidelines recognize that many people in this country face significant barriers that make eating healthier and being more active a challenge,” said Schwartz, a registered dietitian and instructor in the department of hospitality management and dietetics.

For examples, some communities lack adequate park space, walking paths and community centers creating barriers to regular, safe physical activity.  The 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 do not have grocery stores within their neighborhoods or near bus routes.

Removing the barriers to good health

Barriers such as these impact the ability of individuals and families to make those changes that would protect and improve their health, Schwartz explained.

“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 sustainable over time, she added.

People don’t change their eating and physical activity habits in a vacuum, Schwartz said. The guidelines call upon individuals, families, schools, communities, restaurants, food producers and food manufacturers to work together.

“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 also support that,” Schwartz said.

Dietetics student learn problem solving

She pointed to a classroom example.

Vickie James and Claudia Holmbaum, directors of the non-profit Healthy Kids Challenge, helped us create two courses that teach dietetics students how to clearly understand community, program and target audience needs, wants, barriers and resources.  Then students learn to use that assessment information to determine interventions that work both in the short term and long term, Schwartz said.

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

“What we’re trying to do is teach students to look at the total environmental picture,” agreed Kevin Sauer, assistant professor and registered dietitian.

Changing the environment

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 among food manufacturers and understand the cost of change, Sauer said.

“All these potential changes have cost attached,” he added. “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,” he said. “That is not always true.”

People get nutrition information from many sources, Schwartz said, and that information is sometimes not consumer friendly. “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.”

Being a guide for smarter food choices

“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. That might equal five servings of dessert!

“The guidelines are not 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 add on,” Sauer added. 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. “We 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 112-page report is available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.

This article was posted on Friday, February 25, 2011, and is filed under College News, Hospitality Management.