WASHINGTON — Americans should pay taxes on sugary sodas and snacks as a way to cut down on sweets, though they no longer need to worry about cholesterol, according to scientists helping to revamp dietary guidelines as US obesity levels surge.
The recommendations Thursday from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee also call for Americans to reduce meat consumption and to take sustainability into account when dining.
The panel released its report as the Obama administration seeks ways to fight obesity, which now affects more than one-third of American adults and 17 percent of children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
‘‘What we’re calling for in the report in terms of innovation and bold new action in health care, in public health, at the community level, is what it’s going to take to try to make a dent on the epidemic of obesity,’’ committee chairwoman Barbara Millen of Millennium Prevention in Westwood, Mass., said in a telephone interview.
Suggestions by the nonpartisan panel of academics and scientists help shape school lunch menus and the $6-billion-a-year Women, Infants, and Children program, which serves more than 8 million Americans buying groceries.
The recommendations were sent to the two agencies that later this year will issue the final guidelines that are used to create the government’s icon for healthy diets, currently a dinner plate, which replaced the widely used food pyramid.
About half of all US adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases relating to poor diets and physical inactivity such as hypertension, diabetes, and diet-related cancers, according to the government. More than two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of youth are overweight or obese.
In what would be the panel’s first target on ‘‘added sugars’’ from food processing, the group sets a target of no more than 10 percent of all calories, down from the average 13 percent now consumed by US adults. The recommendation comes after studies tied snacks and sugary beverages to high obesity rates.
Local governments have deemed sugars a public health threat. US obesity nearly tripled from the 1960s to 2010, as Americans consumed more sugar. Efforts to encourage better diets, from raising taxes on sodas to imposing limits on super-size beverages — backed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP — have failed at ballot boxes and in courtrooms.
Still, Berkeley, Calif., voters overwhelmingly approved the nation’s first tax on sodas last year, an approach in which the panel finds promise. Soda taxes are worth exploring, potentially as a way to subsidize healthier foods, the panel said.
‘‘Higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes may encourage consumers to reduce sugar-sweetened beverage consumption,’’ according to the advisory panel.
‘‘Using the revenues from the higher sugar-sweetened beverage taxes for nutrition health promotion efforts or to subsidize fruits and vegetables could have public health benefits,’’ the panel said.