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Process to Identify the Topics and Questions

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New Step Added to Support the Development of the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines

For the first time, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) identified topics and scientific questions to be examined by the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee prior to establishing the Committee. The Departments added this step to promote a deliberate and transparent process, respond to feedback on the Dietary Guidelines development process, identify expertise needed on the Committee, help manage resources, and ensure the scientific review conducted by the Committee addresses Federal nutrition policy and program needs.

About the Topic Identification Process

The process used to identify topics and scientific questions was led by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, and the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and vetted by the USDA Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, and HHS Assistant Secretary for Health – with input from the public and Federal agencies.

Federal nutritionists, including scientists and programmatic experts from USDA, HHS, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, participated in the development of proposed topics and supporting questions. The initial list was informed by the needs of Federal nutrition-related programs and initiatives. It also reflected the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, which mandated that starting with the 2020-2025 edition, the Dietary Guidelines provide guidance for women who are pregnant, as well as infants and toddlers from birth to 24 months. 

Next, USDA and HHS posted the topics and supporting scientific questions for public comment. During the open public comment period of February 28 - March 30, 2018, the public sent in more than 12,000 comments via more than 6,000 submissions to Regulations.gov. (Form letters accounted for 74% of all comments.) All submissions received are accessible to the public on our page on Regulations.gov. Simultaneously, Federal agencies also provided comments on the topics and scientific questions. 

USDA and HHS considered each public and agency comment in relation to the following four criteria in refining the topics and questions:

  • Relevance to creating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,
  • Importance to public health,
  • Potential Federal impact on food and nutrition programs, and 
  • Avoiding duplication of Federal efforts. 

USDA and HHS posted the revised topics and scientific questions reflecting public and Federal agency comments on September 6, 2018, when the call for public nominations to the Committee was announced. The main topic areas remain the same, with changes reflecting priority issues. For full transparency, USDA and HHS provided the refined topics and scientific questions to the public in two formats:

  • List A is organized by life stage, which follows the format of the topics and questions posted for public comment. This format makes it as easy as possible for the public to see what has changed.
  • List B provides the identical topics and questions, reorganized to reduce redundancy and better reflect how the Departments will ask the Committee to proceed with its scientific review. 

USDA and HHS decided that the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines will take a life stage approach, focusing on priority scientific questions from birth through older adulthood. In addition to a focus on life stages, the topics and supporting scientific questions reflect a continued focus on patterns of what we eat and drink as a whole, on average and over time, to help prevent disease and keep people healthy – now from birth into older adulthood.