Presenter: Catherine Woteki
DRI development is an important scientific undertaking. Future activities can be informed by the conceptual evolution and changes in science that have occurred over nearly 100 years of establishing dietary recommendations for populations. Moreover, it is important to recognize that there is a long tradition of providing guidance on a health promoting diet. Scientists as early as the late 1700s appear to have included concerns about health in advice to the U.S. Congress concerning the creation of the Navy Ration Law. Later, in the 1800s, the U.S. Army Surgeon proposed limiting fat intake and eating a balanced diet; at about the same time the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) highlighted the use of a balanced diet to promote health.
Government recommendations for what constitutes a health-promoting diet can be readily traced to the World War I era, when the British Royal Society produced recommendations for food requirements for populations under stress during wartime. During the period 1925–1937, the Health Organization of the League of Nations began to set estimated requirements for specific vitamins and minerals. In 1933, dietary standards for food programs were proposed by both the British Medical Association and the USDA. An enormous conceptual evolution occurred from 1917 to 1937, with dietary recommendations changing from a focus on food for starvation relief to standards for programs to maintain and improve the health of the population.
A second conceptual evolution was the move from basing recommendations on observations of usual food intake to using the emerging scientific knowledge of the needs for essential nutrients and energy to provide specific nutrient recommendations. From 1941—when the Roosevelt administration asked the National Research Council (NRC) to recommend levels of intake of essential nutrients to maintain the health of the population during wartime—until 1989, 10 editions of the values (called Recommended Dietary Allowances [RDAs]) were issued.
Although the focus was on essential nutrients and establishing estimates of intake to maintain health, concepts of disease prevention were addressed in editions of the RDAs as early as 1958 (NRC, 1958) when a relationship between dietary fat and coronary artery disease mortality was noted. The 1964 edition (NRC, 1964) recommended that adults moderately reduce