Hand drawn food pyramid.

Health guidelines

Government-produced health guidelines are sometimes met with scepticism; fears of “nanny states”, over-regulation and conflicting information may leave people hesitant to follow public health advice.

Dietary guidelines form part of public health advice

National and international dietary guidelines are examples of public health advice, along with anti-smoking guidelines, immunisation recommendations, and in Australia, the Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign to help prevent skin cancer. What is interesting is we see many people seem willing to pay attention to some public health guidelines, but less so for those relating to nutrition, despite the weight of evidence behind them.

Creating guidelines and making recommendations

In many countries, one of the guidelines suggests people eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. In the Australian Dietary Guidelines you can identify the studies that were used to make this recommendation and references are given in full so that you can look them up in the scientific literature.

Much of the strongest evidence comes from large meta-analyses of cohort and prospective studies involving thousands of people around the globe. A meta-analysis combines the results of all the different studies that can be found for a given topic and delivers an overall analysis derived from all their findings. A cohort study is one that is carried out on a population at a single point in time whereas a prospective study follows a group of people for a long length of time. After evaluating all the available information, the experts who were developing the Australian Dietary Guidelines were able to say that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables has a “probable” or “suggestive” association with improving certain aspects of health.

Talking point

Dietary guidelines are commonly found in many countries around the world and when you compare them you will see many similarities in their recommendations. The cultural context of the guidelines may change, however the general overall messages on nutrition are similar.

Review the dietary guidelines for the UK, Japan, Belgium, Fiji, India, Brazil, Nordic countries or browse your own country’s guidelines from a list produced by The Food and Agriculture Organisation and then within the Comments, consider sharing with other learners your thoughts on the following questions:

  • What are the similarities and differences between the guidelines of each country?
  • Which ones do you like the best, and why?

Don’t forget to contribute to the discussion by reviewing comments made by other learners, making sure you provide constructive feedback and commentary. You can also ‘like’ comments or follow other learners throughout the course.

Responses to your comments can be viewed by selecting Replies.


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This article is from the free online course:

Food as Medicine

Monash University