Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 3, Page 10 Spring 1992 Some good, healthy data A 10-year national plan to profile what Americans are eating, developed with assistance from Marie Fanelli Kuczmarski, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics, will provide U.S. policymakers with plenty of food for thought. Coordinating data from a variety of government surveys, the plan will provide Congress with national nutrition information that can be used for a wide range of decisions--from establishing food labeling requirements to evaluating military meals. In 1990, Congress assigned responsibility to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a 10-year comprehensive plan to assess and report on the nutritional status of the U.S. population. Completed in March by a joint working group that included Kuczmarski, the plan calls for a scientific report of findings from federal nutrition monitoring surveys every five years from 1992 to 2002. Summaries, complete with graphic interpretations, will be published every two years. The plan seeks better coordination between government agencies to avoid duplication of research, Kuczmarski said, and proposes a timetable for research priorities, while designating agencies responsible for the surveys. "We also are proposing better coverage of such neglected groups as the homeless, migrant workers, the elderly, infants and teenagers as well as Native American, black and Hispanic populations," she says. "To include these neglected groups may mean simply over-sampling for them, even though this is more expensive. Some of these groups have been excluded from telephone surveys simply because they have no telephones." In addition to identifying the nutritional status of high-risk groups, data collected and assessed under the coordinated program can be used to track dietary trends, determine the relationships of diet to nutrition and health and regulate the safety, labeling and fortification of food products. Policy makers, researchers and health professionals can use the information to evaluate food assistance programs, public health nutrition programs and meals for the military. Decisions that may affect the food supply, including production and marketing, also can be based on the data. Ultimately, a clearinghouse may provide all the national nutrition data to the public. "Much data are available now, but not many people are aware of all the resources available to them or how to get it," Kuczmarski says.