The federal government puts new emphasis on eating healthy and physical activity.

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Although the food pyramid remains the same, the federal government did make changes to its dietary guidelines, which were discussed during the recent National Nutrition Summit. The summit brought together leaders from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Human Services (HHS).

Published every five years, the congressionally mandated guidelines first went into effect in 1980. They haven't changed much in the past 20 years. "The guidelines have remained relatively stable since their inception since they are based on science," Mary Beth Schultheis, from the USDA's office of public affairs, told Club Industry. In other words, new scientific findings haven't presented a reason to introduce radical changes to the guidelines.

"As science evolves, we will tweak the guidelines," explained Vicki Rivas-Vazquez of the HHS's public affairs office.

Still, the 2000 guidelines do differ from the guidelines announced in 1995-subtly, in some cases. For example, the 1995 dietary guidelines used one bullet point to emphasize eating plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits; the 2000 list, on the other hand, breaks grains (especially whole grains) and vegetables/fruits into two separate bullet points. The purpose of this change is to single out the importance of adding fruits and vegetables to a diet.

The 2000 list also gets into specifics that the 1995 guidelines lacked. Five years ago, the government advised people to "choose a diet moderate in sugars." The new guidelines advise people to "choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars." The reason for the new wording is that many consumers aren't aware of the amount of sugar they get from soft drinks. "Beverages are a major source of additional sugar to the American diet," Schultheis noted.

In addition to new nutrition suggestions, the 2000 guidelines stress exercise, stating that people should be "physically active each day." The guidelines recommend 30 minutes of activity most days of the week for adults, 60 minutes for children. "Physical activity not only reduces weight but has a lot of other benefits such as stress reduction," Rivas-Vazquez said.

The summit's focus wasn't limited to the new dietary guidelines. HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala also announced several nutrition and exercise initiatives. In the fall, the surgeon general will convene a meeting to develop a national action plan that addresses weight problems. Along the same lines, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made $1.6 million available for state-based programs to prevent and control obesity and related chronic diseases. Furthermore, the CDC has released new pediatric growth charts; its new body mass index (BMI) charts will help health care providers identify weight problems in children as young as 2.