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Are dietary guidelines inadequate?

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the food guide pyramid were developed as a means of guiding Americans toward a healthier diet that would help prevent major chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School have just completed a study aimed at determining whether this goal is actually being achieved. The study involved over 38,000 male health professionals and almost 68,000 female nurses. The nurses completed detailed questionnaires on diet and chronic disease risk factors in 1984 and again in 1986 and 1990. By 1996 1365 had suffered a heart attack or a stroke and 5216 had developed cancer. The male health professionals completed their questionnaires in 1986 and again in 1990. By 1996 1092 had suffered a stroke or a heart attack and 1661 had developed cancer.

The researchers compared the dietary information with the incidence of cancer and heart disease and found only a relatively small benefit in following a diet based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the food guide pyramid. The men who followed the guide almost all the time had a 28 per cent lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, but no reduction in cancer risk as compared to men who followed the guidelines 50 per cent or less of the time. Among the women, the ardent followers of the guidelines reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by only 14 per cent and saw no decrease in cancer risk when compared to women who did not pay much heed to the guidelines (highest quintile compared to lowest quintile). The researchers conclude that the current official dietary guidelines are ineffective in reducing the incidence of major chronic diseases and need to be redesigned. [52 references]
McCullough, Marjorie L., et al. Adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and risk of major chronic disease in women and men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 72, November 2000, pp. 1214- 22 and 1223-31

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