(Bloomberg) — Americans should pay taxes on sugary sodas
and snacks as a way to cut down on sweets, though they no longer
need to worry about cholesterol, according to scientists helping
to revamp dietary guidelines as U.S. obesity levels surge.

The recommendations Thursday from the Dietary Guidelines
Advisory Committee also call for Americans to reduce meat
consumption and to take sustainability into account when dining.


The panel released its report as the Obama administration
seeks ways to fight obesity, which now affects more than one-third of American adults and 17 percent of children, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“What we’re calling for in the report in terms of
innovation and bold new action in health care, in public health,
at the community level, is what it’s going to take to try and
make a dent on the epidemic of obesity,” committee chairwoman
Barbara Millen of Millennium Prevention in Westwood,
Massachusetts, said in a telephone interview.

Suggestions by the nonpartisan panel of academics and
scientists help shape school lunch menus and the $6 billion a
year Women, Infants and Children program, which serves more than
8 million Americans buying groceries from retailers including
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kroger Co.

Diet, Nutrition

The recommendations went to the the departments of
Agriculture and Health and Human Services that later this year
will issue guidelines used to create the government’s icon for
healthy diets, currently a dinner plate that replaced the widely
used food pyramid.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the two agencies
will focus on diet and nutrition recommendations, and he
declined to comment on any policy initiatives such as a tax.

“I don’t want anything that would undercut the legitimacy,
credibility and acceptance of the guidelines,” he said Thursday
on a conference call with reporters.

The law that set up the panel requires the final product to
be “about nutrition, and it’s about diet,” he said. “That’s
what these guidelines are supposed to be, and as far as I’m
concerned, they will be.”

Food Lobbies

About half of all U.S. adults have one or more preventable
chronic diseases relating to poor diets and physical inactivity
such as hypertension, diabetes and diet-related cancers,
according to the government. More than two-thirds of adults and
nearly one-third of youth are overweight or obese.

Soda makers and packaged-food companies including PepsiCo
Inc., Coca-Cola Co., Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc., Kraft Foods
Group Inc., Mondelez International Inc. and Hershey Co. all fell
when the report was released. Most later recovered.

The proposals will set up a fight with food lobbies worried
about how their products are treated in the final guidance from
the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

The Obama administration already has landed in food fights
over first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity
initiative, which encourages healthy eating. Republicans have
said Obama-backed nutrition rules rob school districts of
flexibility.

In what would be the panel’s first target on “added
sugars” from food processing, the group sets a level of no more
than 10 percent of all calories, down from the average 13
percent now consumed by U.S. adults. The recommendation comes
after studies tying snacks and sugary beverages to high obesity
rates.

Public Health

Local governments have deemed sugars a public-health
threat. U.S. obesity almost tripled from the 1960s to 2010 as
Americans consumed more sugar. Efforts to encourage better
diets, from raising taxes on sodas to imposing limits on super-size beverages — backed by former New York City Mayor Michael
Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP — have
failed at ballot boxes and in courtrooms.

Still, Berkeley, California, voters overwhelmingly approved
the nation’s first tax on sodas last year, an approach in which
the panel finds promise. Soda taxes are worth exploring,
potentially as a way to subsidize healthier foods, the panel
said.

Soda Tax

“Higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes may encourage
consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption,”
according to the advisory panel. “Using the revenues from the
higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes for nutrition health
promotion efforts or to subsidize fruits and vegetables could
have public health benefits.”

The panel’s cholesterol findings reflect mounting evidence
that eating foods high in the substance, such as eggs and
shrimp, has only a small effect on levels in blood and an
insignificant relationship with heart disease. The 2010
guidelines said people should consume less than 300 milligrams a
day of cholesterol.

“The United States is the last country to have specific
recommendations for limiting dietary cholesterol,” David
Klurfeld, a nutritionist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
said in a phone interview. “All the countries that used to have
that have eliminated them over the years.”

As cholesterol has become less of a worry, consumption of
cholesterol-rich foods such as eggs has rebounded. Meanwhile,
industries whose products are targeted by the panel become
worried how the recommendations may harm sales, said Marion
Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University.

Industry Pushback

“That’s where the major impact is seen,” Nestle said.
“The food industry is frantic about the guidelines. They don’t
want anything in there that says anything about eating less of
their products. That’s their concern more than anything else.”

The meat industry’s worry that the final guidelines may
discourage consumption of low-fat products turned out to be
unfounded. The document states that “lean meats can be a part
of a healthy dietary pattern.”

The panel’s guidance, which recommends against red meats
while endorsing leaner cuts, is contradictory, said Shalene
McNeill, nutrition scientist with the National Cattlemen’s Beef
Association in Washington. “Lean meat is red meat,” she said.
“It is misleading to conclude that a healthy dietary pattern
should be lower in red meat.”

‘Don’t Budge’

Recommendations on sodium and fats echo calls in the 2010
guidelines for adults to consume less than 2,300 milligrams of
sodium and less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated
fat per day. “I don’t think our understanding of healthful
diets has changed, basically,” Nestle said. “Researchers focus
on the details — those get increasingly confusing — but the
basic principles don’t budge.”

The proposals, which include the panel’s first comments on
sustainability, took a wider view of nutrition than in previous
years, said Alice Lichtenstein, the committee vice chairwoman.

“We put much more of an emphasis on healthy dietary
patterns as opposed to individual components of the diet,”
Lichtenstein, a nutrition professor at Tufts University in
Boston, said in a phone interview. “When we focus on individual
components of the diet, whether it be carbs or fat, we usually
end up going astray.”

The sustainability initiative endorses plant-based diets
and urges more consumption of farm-raised fish as ways to
alleviate stress on the environment. A coalition of 49 health,
environment and animal welfare groups including Friends of the
Earth and the American Public Health Association applauded the
effort, saying in a letter to the secretaries of Agriculture and
HHS that they should include such recommendations in their final
product.

Sustainability Effort

“The inclusion of sustainability criteria in the Dietary
Guidelines’ recommendations is a huge step forward for human and
planetary health,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior program
manager at Friends of the Earth in Berkeley.

The idea has already sparked action in Congress: An
appropriations bill passed last year includes a nonbinding
provision telling the USDA and HHS to “only include nutrition
and dietary information.”

HHS, which will lead the writing of the guidelines, and the
USDA jointly appointed the committee, then will act on its
recommendations after considering public comment for 45 days.
Final guidelines are to be released by the end of this year.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Alan Bjerga in Washington at
[email protected];
Doni Bloomfield in New York at
[email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Jon Morgan at
[email protected]
Steve Geimann, Elizabeth Wasserman