April ushers in warmer temperatures, longer days and the return of blossoms. For the nutrition and health community, April reminds us of the challenges and opportunities in addressing health disparities that affect minorities with the observance of National Minority Health Month. Sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health, National Minority Health Month is a critical time to raise awareness about health disparities, and to rally stakeholders to action, as suggested by this year’s theme, Prevention Is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.
Minorities are at greater risk of becoming overweight and obese, and of developing high blood pressure and hypertension, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. While few populations adhere to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), minority populations tend to show the greatest gaps between daily recommended intakes and actual intakes of key food groups and critical nutrients. There is an opportunity to close these nutrient gaps as part of an overall preventive approach to building minority health equity.
The DGAs are the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy. As they are currently being revised, the DGA process can help address minority health needs through federal nutrition policy and foster equity. Given today’s health landscape of an increasingly high-energy, low-nutrient dietary pattern, it is critical that Americans develop healthy, culturally relevant dietary patterns based on nutrient dense foods.
Yogurt is a great example of a nutrient dense food option. In fact, most yogurts provide three out of the four nutrients of concern identified by the 2010 DGAs and reaffirmed by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee – calcium, potassium and vitamin D. Yogurt is also an excellent source of high quality protein, and regular yogurt consumption is associated with less weight gain over time. According to the American Diabetes Association, plain nonfat yogurt with little or no added sugar can be a good choice for people living with diabetes. It is convenient, portable and versatile and can be enjoyed by all ages. Yogurt can also encourage consumption of other nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables through pairing and yogurt-based dips and dressings.
Unfortunately, many minorities avoid dairy due to both real and perceived lactose intolerance. This can make it difficult to achieve the recommended dairy intake, and inadequate dairy consumption has implications for bone health – which was identified in the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) scientific report as a health outcome for which nutrition plays an important role. Most people don’t know that yogurt can be a more easily digestible alternative to milk because it contains live and active cultures that help with lactose digestion. Additionally, yogurt, on average, contains less lactose than milk and may allow more people to enjoy dairy products with fewer associated symptoms. Lactose intolerance was not mentioned in the DGAC scientific report and it is important that strategies for lactose intolerance and lactose maldigestion be included in the final DGA policy document and education outreach.
We have an exciting opportunity to elevate the discussion around health disparities and minority health as part of the DGAs. On May 21, the Ohio State University (OSU) Food Innovation Center, the OSU John Glenn College of Public Affairs and National Geographic will host the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit will convene nutrition, health and public policy experts to consider the role of the Dietary Guidelines in delivering relevant, practical and actionable nutrition guidance for our country’s diverse population. Solutions to health disparities will be one of the key topics addressed.
So, in the spirit of this year’s National Minority Health Month theme, Prevention Is Power, I encourage all of us who work in nutrition and health to take action for health equity. Dietary guidance that helps prevent health disparities, so that minority populations – and all Americans – can be part of a healthier nation, is a challenge we must solve together.
Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN
One Yogurt Every Day Nutrition Advisor
Owner and President, CBR Nutrition Enterprises Author, The African American Guide to Living Well with Diabetes and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes
One Yogurt Every Day Nutrition Advisor Yvonne Bronner, ScD, recently submitted public comments highlighting key areas in which the DGAs can catalyze changes in Americans’ dietary patterns for the better. She called for greater emphasis on nutrient rich foods, especially in healthy food combinations, and noted the importance of combining them in practical, realistic ways that can change dietary patterns longer term. Dr. Bronner also encouraged HHS and USDA to focus greater attention on health disparities, and specifically noted that strategies to improve bone health will be difficult to achieve without addressing lactose intolerance, which was not mentioned in the DGAC report. Finally, Dr. Bronner stressed the importance of including practical and actionable messages such as “eat one yogurt every day” in the DGAs to help Americans achieve meaningful behavior change.
Register today for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Summit on May 21 in Washington, D.C. This half-day summit is hosted by The Ohio State University Food Innovation Center, The Ohio State University John Glenn College of Public Affairs and National Geographic. Don’t miss this chance to participate in a national conversation about nutrition policy and hear from representatives from academia, medicine, government, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) and non-profit organizations. Visit http://www.dgasummit.com/ to view the complete program and speaker line up and to register.
Registration is free and open to the public, and we encourage you to share this event information with your networks. Space is limited, so be sure to register today.
This event is made possible through support from Abbott Nutrition, Abbott Nutrition Health Institute and the Dannon Institute.
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