A U.S. panel of nutrition experts proposed new federal dietary guidelines that acknowledge a link between soft drinks and weight gain, but stopped short of recommending that overweight Americans eat less sugar.
The 13-member panel, commissioned by the Bush administration to recommend changes to the government's dietary guidelines, also said "social changes" in America's supersized lifestyle would help shrink the country's waistline.
Two-thirds of American adults are overweight and childhood obesity is ballooning. Obesity caused by poor diet and physical inactivity is blamed for 400,000 deaths a year and may soon overtake smoking as the No. 1 cause of preventable death.
Consumer groups had hoped the panel would bluntly recommend that Americans limit their consumption of soft drinks and other sugary foods, a view sharply opposed by beverage makers and the sugar industry, who say weight gain is due to many factors.
The federal dietary guidelines form the basis of the well-known food pyramid printed on breakfast cereals and other food packages. The guidelines are updated every five years by the farmer-friendly U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Health and Human Services Department.
The recommendations include non-controversial language advising consumers to choose their fats and carbohydrates "wisely" and to limit salt and alcohol.
The experts stopped short of directly urging Americans to cut down on soft drinks, cakes, cookies, pies, candy and other sugar-filled food, saying more research was necessary.
Earlier this week, scientists with the Harvard School of Public Health said the U.S. rate of diabetes has soared in tandem with soft drink consumption. Their study suggested that spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels may be at least partly triggered by sugary drinks.
Soft drink makers and the sugar industry contend it is unfair to link diabetes to soft drink consumption. They say an unhealthy lifestyle, not a particular food or beverage, increases an individual's risk of developing diabetes.
The federal nutrition panel urged Americans to balance food intake with activity levels to avoid gaining weight. They advised Americans to be more physically active and to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The USDA and the Health and Human Services Department will review the report and finalize new guidelines in 2005.
Consumer groups have expressed concern in the past that the USDA, which promotes agricultural products, has a major role in developing federal dietary guidelines. Last year, they requested the government remove seven of the 13 panel members because of their close ties to the food industry. None of them were removed.
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