Report casts doubt on nutrition guidelines
Sept. 24, 2015
by Erica Shaffer
Journalist Nina Teicholtz contributed an article to the BMJ highlighting some of its findings.
NEW YORK – Dietary guidelines proposed by the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee didn’t take into account relevant scientific research when it submitted its report to the Depts. of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, The British Medical Journal found.
The US committee’s recommendations included eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing consumption of saturated fat and sodium. In a new development, the recommendations also considered sustainability, advising less consumption of animal-based food and caffeine, reflecting concerns over consumption of large-sized energy drinks.
Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of BMJ said, “These guidelines are hugely influential, affecting diets and health around the world. The least we would expect is that they be based on the best available science. Instead the committee has abandoned standard methodology, leaving us with the same dietary advice as before — low fat, high carbs.”
Journalist Nina Teicholtz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote “The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?,” which discusses some of the BMJ findings. She wrote that the most significant shift in the dietary guidelines is the advisory committee’s emphasis on a plant-based diet even though none of the committee’s findings are supported by strong scientific evidence. For example, the proposed guidelines remove meat from the list of food recommended as part of a healthy diet while actively promoting reductions in consumption of red meat and processed meats.
“This advice has been the subject of much debate, which guideline supporters have successfully characterized as a conflict between the self-interested meat industry versus virtuous efforts to safeguard health (and the environment),” Teicholtz wrote.
Industry stakeholders such as the National Pork Producers Council submitted comments protesting the committee’s guidance regarding consumption of processed and red meats.
“Animal protein is the preeminent source of protein in the American diet, and this is supported by sound, current science,” NPPC said in its comments submitted in May.
Dietary guidance for the last 35 years has emphasized higher intake of fruit, vegetables and whole grains along with lower intake of meat, dairy and eggs.
Teicholtz argues that the omission of relevant scientific information suggests the advisory committee is reluctant to reverse dietary guidance that has existed for 35 years: consume less fat and fewer animal proteins — meat, dairy and eggs — while increasing consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains. But this advice has not led to improved health outcomes for consumers, she noted.
“Given the growing toll taken by these conditions and the failure of existing strategies to make meaningful progress in fighting obesity and diabetes to date, one might expect the guideline committee to welcome any new, promising dietary strategies,” Teicholz said in a statement.
In addition to omitting relevant scientific evidence, the committee also used weak scientific standards such as including input from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.
“Use of external reviews by professional associations is problematic because these groups conduct literature reviews according to different standards and are supported by food and drug companies,” Teicholtz wrote. “The ACC reports receiving 38 percent of its revenue from industry in 2012, and the AHA reported 20 percent of revenue from industry in 2014.”
Teicholtz said the troubling trend of rising rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease signals an urgent need for nutrition guidance based on sound scientific evidence.
“It may be time to ask our authorities to convene a fresh, truly independent panel of scientists free from potential conflicts to undertake a comprehensive review, in order to ensure that selection of the dietary guidelines committee becomes more transparent, and that the most rigorous scientific evidence is reliably used to produce the best possible nutrition policy,” she said.
The DGAC’s Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of the Federal Register. The USDA and HHS are scheduled to release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 later this year.