U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Nutrition Education Subcommittee

The NIH Nutrition Education Subcommittee (NES), a subcommittee of the NIH Nutrition Research Coordinating Committee, reviews federal nutrition education materials that contain dietary guidance for the general population. A Congressional mandate for reviews of these materials was enacted in 1990 to ensure that nutrition education materials produced by federal agencies are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) and that all agencies within the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) are consistent in regard to nutrition information and advice.

The NES reviews nutrition education materials in several formats including printed and electronic media such as brochures and fact sheets, web pages, videos, and audio format messages that are intended for the general public. Information materials and resources that are intended for nutrition or medical professionals, or intended for use in treating patients (i.e., materials that might be given to a patient from a physician or a dietitian), and materials that are regulatory in nature (e.g., FDA regulations) are excluded from NES reviews. For more information about the NES review process, timeline, and forms, please see specific questions and answers below.

Why do NIH nutrition education materials need to be reviewed?

Title III of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 (PL 101-445) requires review of nutrition education materials and messages for the public. The law directs the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to review materials to ensure consistency with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). A Dietary Guidance Review Committee was formed to assist the Secretaries with this task.  The DGRC oversees the review process and ensures that the two Departments will work together. The DGRC includes two Co-Chairs, one from each Department, and Agency Representatives from each of the agencies in the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services that provide nutrition education and messages to the public.

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What materials should be reviewed?

The Congressional mandate for the review process states that materials containing “dietary guidance for the general population or identified population subgroups” need to go through the review process, and the materials to be reviewed include “nutrition education materials (documents, brochures, fact sheets, web pages, videos, audios) intended for the general public.” Dietary guidance includes information about types of foods, food groups, and/or nutrients that should be consumed per meal or on a daily or weekly basis and/or information about the amount of foods or food groups to be consumed per meal or daily or weekly and/or information about topics covered in the DGAs such as obesity, weight management, diet-related chronic diseases, or alcohol consumption.

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What materials are exempt from review?

Materials that do not require review include reports or papers intended for nutrition or medical professionals, materials that are intended specifically as patient treatment (i.e., materials that might be given to a patient from a physician or a dietitian), or materials that are regulatory in nature (e.g., FDA regulations).

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What is the NIH Nutrition Education Subcommittee (NES)?

The NIH Nutrition Education Subcommittee (NES) is a subcommittee of the NIH Nutrition Research Coordinating Committee (NRCC). The NES serves as a focal point at the NIH for the review of nutrition education publications and related materials for the public. The NES is composed of NIH personnel who have expertise in the nutritional sciences. Broad representation is sought from as many of the 27 NIH ICs as possible because the NES reviews a wide range of nutrition education materials that target diverse population groups.

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What does the NES do?

The NES reviews nutrition education materials created by the NIH (includes publications, websites, video scripts, brochures, etc.) that are intended for the general population or specific population subgroups. The purpose of the NES review is to ensure the scientific and technical accuracy of the information and consistency with the DGAs. The NES performs two main functions:

  1. The NES provides reviews of NIH nutrition education materials to ensure that dietary information intended for the general public are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  2. Members of the NES may be asked to serve as Subject Matter Experts and review nutrition education materials prepared by other HHS agencies when asked by members of the HHS/USDA Dietary Guidance Review Committee.

A detailed history of the NES is provided in the following citation: Pennington JAT and Hubbard VS. Nutrition education materials from the National Institutes of Health: Development, review, and availability. J Nutr Ed 2002; 34:53-58.

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How are reviews for NIH materials conducted?

  1. After clearance through the initiating NIH IC, the materials (or the nutrition components of the materials) are submitted to the NES Chair.

  2. The Chair forwards the materials the NES with a request for a dietary guidance review. The material is accompanied by a background document or coversheet describing the material, the intended target audience, means of dissemination, and any research or preliminary testing using the material (when applicable). A 2-section comments template form is also provided for the NES reviewers to note their comments.

  3. At the same time the materials are sent to the NES for review, the NES Chair will forward the material to the Co-Chairs of the joint HHS/USDA Dietary Guidance Review Committee (DGRC). When determined necessary by the DGRC Co-Chairs, other DGRC Agency Representatives or Subject Matter Experts from within HHS or USDA may be asked to provide an additional dietary guidance review that will take place simultaneously.

  4. In most cases, the NES reviewers have two weeks to complete their review of the material. NES reviewer comments are grouped into Section 1 or Section 2 categories. Section 1 comments must be addressed by the authors as they consist of scientific or technical inaccuracies and/or inconsistencies with the DGA recommendations. Section 2 comments are optional in nature and include reviewer comments and suggestions to improve the clarity and completeness of the material, editorial errors that might be missed, format suggestions to improve readability, and other constructive feedback.

  5. The NES Chair prepares a summary report based on the comments received and returns it to the authors for their review and follow-up action. The NES Chair will request that Section 1 comments be addressed and that the authors review other suggestions provided by the reviewers. The Chair will work with the authors to prepare a revised draft of the material. Once the Section 1 comments are addressed satisfactorily, the NES review will be completed.

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How are reviews for non-NIH materials conducted?

  1. Materials developed by other HHS and USDA agencies are submitted to the NES Chair from the Co-Chairs of the HHS/USDA DGRC when an NIH review is requested. (Note: The NES Chair serves as a member of the DGRC along with representatives from other HHS/USDA agencies.)

  2. The NES Chair emails the materials to the NES members for review.

  3. The NES Chair compiles the comments received from the NES reviewers and sends a summary report to the Co-Chairs of the HHS/USDA DGRC.

  4. Comments from NES and other members of the DGRC are compiled and sent to the initiating party for review and action, when indicated.

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What instructions are given to the NES members when they review materials?

The following instructions are provided to NES reviewers:

  1. Record all comments on the NES comments form, which is sent out with each review, rather than the document itself.

  2. When noting comments, clearly identify the page, paragraph, and sentence or line numbers for the statement or words of concern; when indicated, the specific wording used in a section can be included in the comments to clarify the location.

  3. For each comment, indicate the specific issue or concern. When possible, offer a suggestion such as a text revision, correction, insertion, or deletion.

  4. For Section 1 comments (inconsistencies with the DGAs and scientific/technical inaccuracies) must be corrected by the author before publication. Any other comments (Section 2) noted by the NES will be assumed to be suggestions to the authors and action on such comments is optional.

  5. If the materials provide web links for additional information, reviewers are not required to go into web links and review the materials found there. NES comments related to whether or not a link works and the accuracy of the information in the link will be forwarded to the author. If the links are non-government sites, the authors should indicate to the user that he/she is leaving a government website.

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Checklist and instructions for submitting NIH materials to the NES.

Be sure to address the following questions when submitting materials for an NES review:

  1. Have the materials been cleared by the initiating NIH IC?

  2. Have the materials been reviewed by a nutritionist or dietitian within the IC who is knowledgeable of the DGAs and understands their application to materials for the population and sub-populations?

  3. Have the materials been proofread for scientific and technical accuracy, for grammar, spelling, and for use with the intended target audience?

  4. Are the pages of the materials that are for review numbered?

  5. If the materials are web-based, create a Microsoft Word version and number the pages.

  6. If the materials include information that is in the domain of another IC, it is advisable to have someone in the other IC review the materials prior to submission for NES review to insure interagency consistency and agreement.

  7. Send the materials electronically to the NES Chair, Rachel Fisher (Rachel.Fisher@nih.hhs.gov), and copy nutritionresearch@mail.nih.gov with a cover page (email note) that includes the following information:

    • Name of document/materials:

    • Originating NIH IC (Institute, Center, Division, Office)

    • Contact person, email address, phone number

    • Date of submission

    • Intended audience (include age, gender, race-ethnicity group and reading level if appropriate)

    • Means of dissemination. Please describe and list all of the methods to disseminate the material (e.g. printed material, website release, video, and so forth)

    • Background research/focus-group testing that supports the materials. Please provide references and/or descriptions of the formative research, usability testing, pretests, evaluation studies that were conducted using the proposed material.

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How long does the review process take?

Reviews are usually completed in two weeks. If a review from SMEs outside of the NIH is deemed necessary, additional time may be required. This will vary depending on the length of the document and will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

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Did the dietary guidance review process change when the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) were released?

Yes. To keep up with the speed of communication and to increase efficiency, an updated approach to reviewing dietary guidance from federal agencies has been implemented. In the past, a two-step review process was required. Documents first had to be reviewed by the NES and then they were sent to a separate HHS/USDA review committee for a second review. The new approach provides federal agencies the authority to approve materials produced by their agency as consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, ensuring compliance the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act.

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Are there any good resources for authors to use when preparing dietary guidance materials for the general public?

Yes, several excellent resources are available. Initially, authors should review the DGA recommendations prior to writing the content of the dietary guidance materials to familiarize themselves with the recommendations that are provided. It is very important that the dietary guidance messages be scientifically accurate and consistent with the latest DGA recommendations. Additionally, an important goal of the dietary guidance communication campaign undertaken by federal agency partners is to communicate the DGA recommendations to consumers using straightforward and actionable messages.

The following web-based resources are helpful to authors

The DGA policy document that summarizes the science underpinning the DGA recommendations is posted on the following website: http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy Promotion developed ChooseMyPlate.gov as a comprehensive resource to communicate the DGAs to the public. Numerous fact sheets, interactive tools to monitor food and nutrient intakes and physical activity, recipes, and guides for healthy eating on are posted on the site. Link: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

The HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion health communication initiative produced many helpful resources improve health communication and health literacy. The link for the site is: http://health.gov/communication/resources/

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Is there a guide that authors and reviewers can use?

Yes, there is a Communicator's Guide for Authors and Reviewers, based on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/communicators-guide

The Guide is used by authors and dietary guidance reviewers to develop and review dietary guidance and nutrition education messages for the general public that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines recommendations. Guidance is provided to help users incorporate health literacy principles and plain language wording into the documents and education resources produced by federal agencies.

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