Food-based dietary guidelines


©FAO/Filipe Branquinho

The implementation of FBDGs goes beyond the traditional dissemination of messages to the public through different channels and media. To influence diets and ultimately the food system, FBDGs need to be coherently integrated in national food, agriculture, education and/or health policies and programmes; applied into different sectors; and involve a wide range of stakeholders from governments, non-governmental organizations, mass media, the private sector and communities.

Although many countries have developed national dietary guidelines, implementation plans are often not comprehensive enough, are not planned for since development, and lack the necessary political and financial support. Dietary guidelines are rarely evaluated thus their impact remains unknown. More efforts should therefore be devoted to their implementation and evaluation, with governments spearheading and allocating resources for these processes.

Dietary guidelines – a programmatic and policy tool

FBDGs have the potential to guide and inform all sectoral policies that influence diets and food systems; and therefore be part of a country’s strategy to improve food security, food safety, nutrition and health. This would mean, for example, that if a country’s guidelines recommend eating fruits and vegetables every day, these should be available, accessible to and affordable by the target population. A recommendation to practice physical activity regularly should be backed up by the provision of adequate areas for people to exercise.

Dietary guidelines can also be used to shape the food environment, for instance by setting standards for foods offered in public settings (schools, workplaces, hospitals, prisons, social canteens and restaurants);  by guiding the food industry to improve the nutritional quality of food products to conform to the recommendations of the guidelines (e.g. reduce sodium, fat and sugar content); or by regulating the marketing and sale of products of low-nutritional value and high in fat, sugar, salt and additives - particularly those directed at children.

Dietary guidelines – an educational tool

FBDGs are frequently used as an educational tool by health providers, teachers, journalists, extension agents, and others working directly with the public. Targeted nutrition education interventions are needed to empower individuals and help them develop the necessary capacities to choose and maintain healthy diets throughout their lives. Nutrition education interventions can be delivered in schools, workplaces, health centres and communities.

Some countries integrate the dietary guidelines in broader national and local health promotion and disease prevention programs. They may also use a social marketing approach, implementing messages individually, for example, salt reduction campaigns or promotion of fruits and vegetables in national Five a Day programs.

Capacity development

The development of capacities of practitioners working directly with the public - nutritionists, health and education professionals -, as well as for those who have an influence on food availability, access and distribution, and the development of dietary habits - school teachers, food handlers, agricultural extension and social protection agents, is key for the effectiveness of FBDGs implementation.  

Investment and planning for capacity development should, ideally, be thought out from the development of FBDGs, and occur in parallel with the implementation plan.