Photography by U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Veggie trays packed for U.S. school lunch.
Photography by U.S. Department of Agriculture

10 Takeaways From the Dietary Guidelines Summit

Get a room of food scientists, dieticians, and politicians together to discuss 571-page eating rules for a few hours, and you can be sure there will be a lot of opinions.

Today’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans Summit was held at National Geographic’s Washington, D.C. headquarters in conjunction with The Ohio State University. It was an opportunity to debate the proposed guidelines the government will use to form policy and educate the public for the next five years. The guidelines will influence everything about food, from school lunch to prison meals to food stamp benefits to the pamphlets your doctor gives you about how to lose 15 pounds.

2015’s debate is a doozy, particularly over proposed recommendations to limit red meat and move closer to an environmentally friendly, sustainable, plant-based diet. The government’s final guidelines are expected toward the end of the year. Until them, chew on the ten most provocative ideas from this morning’s summit, summarized:

1. Lucille Adams-Campbell, associate director, minority health and health disparities research, Georgetown University: The biggest myth is that low-income populations don’t care about their own health, wellness, and well-being.

2. Ginny Ehrlich, director, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Crowdsource grocery stores. When grocery stores say that their celery isn’t selling, ask the community to help build and design grocery stores, and which fruits and vegetables they will buy.

3. Benard Dreyer, president-elect, American Association of Pediatrics: Obesity is a developmental disorder of childhood. Children’s dietary problems carry into adulthood and, as obesity and food insecurity are directly linked, we must figure out how to help families choose fruits and vegetables over cheap fast food.

4. Anna Maria Siega-Riz, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, Ehrlich: We know what programs will help people improve their diet and health; we know what works. The real problem is, we need to figure out how to bring these programs to people.

5. Leslie Lytle, department chair, health behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC: Social connections are pivotal. Social connections in the community are best to translate the Dietary Guidelines—a trusted neighbor or friend or niece to teach someone how to prepare unfamiliar fruits and vegetables.

6. Lytle: There are many parallels between food and tobacco. Tobacco really fell apart when the government stopped subsidizing it. I don’t know how we start tackling obesity and food policy reform until companies can make money selling healthful foods. A lot of people crave calming down, and both food and tobacco help them do that. But calming down before, rather than through, eating helps with making better food decisions.

7. Dennis Dimick, executive editor, National Geographic: Seventy percent of Americans meet the current Dietary Guidelines only seven days out of the year.

8. Hank Cardello, director, obesity solutions initiative, Hudson Institute: Food businesses would come out with 100 percent healthy products all day long, if they could sell them. And we need products because we are a nation of assemblers—we are not cooks anymore.

9. Debra Eschmeyer, executive director of Let’s Move!: How can we “Uber-ize” SNAP and WIC, so people can access social programs more efficiently? We are on the precipice of being able to deliver these programs in a transformational way. Chipotle is delivering burritos; so let’s convene the best and brightest of the tech industry about delivering food.

10. Jeff Lenard, National Association of Convenience Stores: We have 154,000 convenience stores in America, most of which get product delivered once per week, so it’s very difficult to sell fresh food. Many convenience stores therefore buy produce at Wal-Mart and mark it up to resell it at the convenience store, so it’s expensive. And remember, for many people the dinner plate isn’t a plate—it’s a cup or their hand.