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U.S. Diet Needs Heart-Felt Overhaul

Doctors urge all levels of society to encourage good eating habits, cut coronary risks

TUESDAY, March 3 (HealthDay News) -- Every level of society must contribute to strategies meant to make it easier for people to eat a heart-healthy diet, according to the American Heart Association.

"Health problems caused by the U.S. diet extend past what people put on their plates to outside influences and trends in behavior that affect when, what and how much people eat. Multiple factors influence what Americans eat at every state of the life cycle," Dr. Samuel S. Gidding, director of pediatric cardiology at Nemours Cardiac Center of the Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., said in an AHA news release Monday.

Strategies to improve Americans' diets should be comprehensive and take into account individual tastes and behavior, family eating patterns, socioeconomic factors that limit food choices, ethnicity and literacy levels, the statement concluded.

The statement outlined specific steps that can be used to encourage good eating habits in families, schools, workplaces and communities. For example:

  • Patients could be asked to measure their food consumption and then limit the use of sugar-containing beverages, reduce portion sizes, eat more meals as a family, and make time for physical activity.
  • Rather than just specific diet counseling, doctors should support patient lifestyle changes and offer positive feedback for success in order to balance negative messages about unhealthy lifestyle-related risks.
  • School nutrition standards need to be strengthened, and the food industry needs to reformulate products marketed to children. Efforts to push for healthier standards in schools require the involvement of parents and lawmakers at the local level.
  • Longer-term and Web-based workplace interventions are better than one-time-only and printed literature in changing employees' eating habits. Employers should promote, and possibly subsidize, healthy food choices in on-site cafeterias, vending machines and at meetings.
  • Food-labeling laws that require restaurants to post the calorie count of their menu items can help consumers make healthier meal choices.
  • Governments can improve access to healthy foods for people with low incomes by offering increased funding for food stamp programs that can be used at farmers' markets, and by dealing with transportation issues that prevent access to healthy food.
  • Also, governments could provide subsidies to encourage agricultural production of more whole-grain products, fruits and vegetables, trans fat-free oils, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Encourage more research on ways to make healthy foods the preferred choice for consumers. Economic incentives may be one way to achieve this goal.

"The adverse trends in U.S. eating patterns must be reversed. Food choices are influenced on multiple social and environmental levels. With so many consumers eating away from home, we must make it easier to them to choose healthy food in every environment," Gidding said.

The heart association statement was published in the journal Circulation.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about eating for a healthy heart.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, March 2, 2009

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