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Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs

Quantitative nutrient recommendations have been the cornerstone of food and nutrition assistance programs. In the United States, the RDAs have been used: (1) as the basis for specified meal patterns in child nutrition programs and other institutional feeding programs; (2) as the nutritional goals of the Thrifty Food Plan, a low-cost food plan that determines benefit levels for the Food Stamp Program; (3) in development of food packages and benefits for various targeted nutrition programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and (4) in assessment of compliance with USDA nutrition program regulations. There are few government-operated nutrition assistance programs in Canada and thus, no equivalent reported uses of the RNIs.

Similarly, dietary reference standards—typically the former RDAs and RNIs—have been used as guidelines for planning meals by incorporation into regulations for feeding groups (e.g., school children or elderly adults) and for making food purchasing and budgeting decisions.

In general, when the former RDAs were used to plan diets, the goals were set such that a certain percentage of the RDA was achieved over a period of a week or longer. The challenge for those who have used the former RDAs and RNIs for planning meals and designing food and nutrition program benefits will be how to incorporate the new reference standards of Estimated Average Requirements (EARs), RDAs, Adequate Intakes (AIs), and ULs to enhance and improve the nutritional dimension of diet planning.

Military Food and Nutrition Planning and Policy

The U.S. Department of Defense uses dietary reference standards for dietary assessment, food procurement and meal planning, setting nutrient levels of military rations for deployment, and developing nutrition education materials for military personnel. Nutrient standards are used by the military to plan menus and meals for garrison feeding and to assess whether provision of fortified foods, nutrient supplements, or special food products are needed in operational conditions. For example, in the past the military adapted the former RDAs to reflect variations in physical activity or stress or to emphasize performance enhancement (rather than to prevent deficiencies) (AR 40-25, 1985).

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