This article was originally posted on LinkedIn

Last month, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) announced that it will extend the public comment period on its new nutrition guidelines, after members of Congress expressed deep concerns about the committee’s report.

The committee’s 571-page book of recommendations will be used to make the 2015 dietary guidelines and to set policy for a variety of government led efforts. One of the key areas of concern includes a call for Americans to move to a “plant-based” diet and eat less meat, not because of its health impact – for which there is no consensus – but rather because of the environmental impact.

We can all agree that Americans should be aware of making nutritious choices in an effort to maintain a healthy weight, but government recommendations which blend environmental policy with nutrition policy are not the way to do it. Mixed messages on complex issues confuse consumers. If consumers do not clearly understand the recommendations they become frustrated and in many cases make choices for their families that lead to unintended consequences. As opposed to providing clarity, the guidelines have created chaos in the minds of the consumer as well as for those individuals responsible for implementing them.

Since the launch of the First Lady’s Let’s Move program, we have seen that partnerships between corporations and the public health community have proven successful at improving health outcomes. A critical aspect of these partnerships is simple clear messages on which all can agree. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) in agreement with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation determined that we would apply a laser focus on calories. We committed to reducing calories on a massive scale. We would educate the students and families about calories. More importantly, we would commit to reducing calories sold in the marketplace.

In 2010, we made a pledge to First Lady Michelle Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America to take 1.5 trillion calories from the marketplace by 2015. In 2012 – three years ahead of schedule – we determined that HWCF member companies had actually removed 6.4 trillion calories from the marketplace, exceeding our goal by 400%. Our member companies were given the flexibility to reduce calories that best allowed them to meet customer requirements for taste, value and convenience. As a result, we decreased sugars and fats while exceeding our calorie reduction goal. This success wasn’t due to any sort of government intervention with lots of complicated instructions. It was because of the commitment of a coalition of private businesses and leaders in public health to meet a clear understandable goal.

Numerous food and beverage companies have since followed our lead and committed to helping Americans make healthier choices based on simple ideas that empower consumers to take critical health related action. In March, Partnership for a Healthier America launched a new effort, FNV – a marketing campaign laser-focused on branding fruits and vegetables (hence the name “FNV”) – as cool to youth, to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables with simple goals and clear messages like celebrity endorsements of fruits and vegetables. Simple messages. Achievable goals.

Hank Cardello of the Hudson Institute is conducting a series of seminars at the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research sponsored by HWCF and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Hank has found consumers flock to healthier products. In a five year period ending in December 2012, companies growing their lower-calorie products increased their sales, companies that didn’t saw declines. In the same period, twice as many lower-calorie new products were successful as higher-calorie products.

Hank speaks to the power of the not only partnering with industry changing the food supply but also on getting the messages right for consumers. The public health community can gain a wealth of information about consumer preferences and marketing by working with industry. He points out the need for simplicity if you want to have impact on the 2.3T business side represented by the food industry. Create cooperation not confusion and chaos. Although that is advice from a marketing standpoint, we can all agree that we will have greater chance of success if government guidelines are as clear as possible.

What does this mean? Simply put, the Dietary Guidelines should stick to health outcomes and ensure that the recommended outcomes are clear, easy to comprehend and enable and empower those who have to implement them.