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New Dietary Guidelines Give Little New Guidance

There isn’t much new in the latest iteration of the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” Three years in the making, the 2010 guidelines (released a tad late, on January 31, 2011) offer the usual advice about eating less of the bad stuff (salt; saturated fat, trans fats, and cholesterol; and refined grains) and more of the good stuff (fruits and vegetables; whole grains; seafood, beans, and other lean protein; and unsaturated fats). I’ve listed the 23 main recommendations below. You can also find them on the “Dietary Guidelines” website.

The guidelines do break some new ground. They state loudly and clearly that overweight and obesity are a leading nutrition problem in the United States, and that a healthy diet can help people achieve a healthy weight. They also ratchet down sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day (about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt) for African Americans and people with high blood pressure or risk factors for it, such as kidney disease or diabetes. But the guidelines also leave the recommendation for sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day for everyone else, a move that the American Heart Association and others call “a step backward.”

Vague language spoils the message

One big problem with the guidelines is that they continue to use the same nebulous language that has made previous versions poor road maps for the average person wanting to adopt a healthier diet.

Here’s an example: The new guidelines urge Americans to eat less “solid fat.” What, exactly, does that mean — stop spooning up lard or Crisco? No. Solid fat is a catchphrase for red meat, butter, cheese, ice cream, and other full-fat dairy foods. But the guidelines can’t say that, since they are partly created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA), the agency charged with promoting the products of American farmers and ranchers, which includes red meat and dairy products. “Added sugars” is another circumlocution, a stand-in for sugar-sweetened sodas, many breakfast cereals, and other foods that provide huge doses of sugar and few, or no, nutrients. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Should Children’s Hospitals Do Social Media?

I [recently] participated in an interview for an upcoming publication. As the interview wound down, the dialog downshifted into small talk that included, among other things, hospital blogs.

The interviewer (who had recently been exploring the blogging community) asked me what I thought about Thrive’s (Boston Children’s Hospital blog) recent birthday nod to Seattle Mama Doc (Seattle Children’s Hospital blog). More specifically, did I think it was unusual that one children’s hospital would congratulate a competing institution on its one-year anniversary?

I thought the question was odd but it got me thinking: Do children’s hospitals compete in the social space? I don’t think so. They shouldn’t. And if they were competing, what would they be competing for?

Children’s hospitals are inherently regional. Parents of the northwest see Seattle Children’s as the end of the earth. In the northeast, Boston Children’s is the bee’s knees. And while specialty service lines like congenital heart surgery may draw patients from around the world, most kids come from their corner of the world.

Then there’s the broader question about the point of a blog for a children’s hospital. Is it a marketing gimmick or does it serve a higher function? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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