science and diet

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 |

Current and past Dietary Guidelines are not based on a complete and objective picture of available scientific evidence.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, first created in 1980, have been based from the start as much on politics as on science. We are especially concerned that the limited science represented in the proposed 2010 Dietary Guidelines reflects priorities other than that of the health of Americans.

While it is recognized that origins of obesity are multi-factorial and that personal choices contribute to health outcomes, the effect of the Dietary Guidelines on the elements of our society that affect food and nutrition cannot be excluded from an examination of factors that have contributed to creating a food environment detrimental to the health of Americans.

Of particular concern is the relationship between the American Dietetic Association (ADA, the credentialing body for Registered Dietitians, or RDs), the USDA, and industry.

A recent ADA poll indicated 71% of Americans think dietitians and nutritionists are “very credible” sources of nutrition information, yet only 42% would rank the USDA’s advice as “very credible.”  The public seems unaware that nutrition guidance dispensed by the USDA and by RDs is the same.  The ADA relies on the USDA as a scientific authority in nutrition.  In the ADA’s Evidence Analysis Library, a tool used by RDs to develop their patient treatment plans, “evidence” is often stated as concurring with the USDA’s recommendations.  For example, the ADA’s “evidence” for cholesterol guidance states that “The ADA Disorders of Lipid Metabolism workgroup concurs with the following . . .  from the USDA Nutrition Evidence Library (NEL): Moderate evidence from epidemiologic studies relates dietary cholesterol intake to clinical cardiovascular disease (CVD) end-points.”

At the 2011 ADA convention, the press was invited to special media briefings sponsored by food corporations to hear expert panels and new scientific research that highlighted the nutritional value of processed food products, including one sponsored by General Mills on the “health benefits of cereal and low-fat dairy.”  Although the ADA says it wants to “optimize the nation’s health through food and nutrition,” partnering with sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Hershey, Mars, Pepsi, and others sends a mixed message. Corporate sponsors also participate in educating RDs:  the ADA has Coca-Cola, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft, Nestle, and Pepsi serving as “accredited providers” of continuing professional education for dietitians.  The ADA has also been under Congressional investigation for its financial ties to pharmaceutical companies, detailed here in a letter to Senator Charles Grassley.

These, as well as other ADA organizational decisions, creates a situation that entrenches traditional approaches to addressing obesity and chronic disease and prevents progress toward improving the health of Americans.

Other organizations–including United in Health, and Alliance for Natural Health-USA–share our concerns and are calling for reform.

A Call for Reform

Members of the Healthy Nation Coalition had the opportunity to respond to the release of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines at a press conference in Washington, DC on February 14.  See the link below to hear the evidence that explains why the 2010 Dietary Guidelines–as well as previous guidelines–are not based on a complete review of the available scientific evidence and why this situation has, and will continue to have, negative consequences for Americans.

Here more about this at the press conference video.

Transcripts to speakers’ notes are linked below, along with the presentation slides.

The speakers are:
Sally Fallon Morrell, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation

Morton Satin, Salt Institute:  The Salt Institute’s Response to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines

Adele Hite, Healthy Nation Coalition:  The USDA’s Pyramid Scheme

Peter Farnham, Nutrition and Metabolism Society

Pam Schoenfeld, Registered Dietitian, A Dietitian’s Response to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines

Dr James E. Carlson B.S.,D.O.,M.B.A.,J.D.,

Along with many other nutrition experts, we recognize that:
The most important goal of the US Dietary Guidelines is meeting the need for essential nutrition. Whenever possible, those needs should be met through whole foods, not from additives, enrichment, or fortification. This approach to nutrition is consistent with scientific evidence that:

–suggests that the proposed Guidelines are not appropriate for population-wide diet recommendations, especially with regard to restrictions on dietary fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.

–indicates that the proposed Guidelines may lead to increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, and chronic disease in many populations.

–indicates that reducing intake of starches and sugars has health benefits.

–indicates that adequate, complete protein is a critical part of the adult diet and that many adults benefit from intakes above current minimum recommendations.

Although we feel that there is strong scientific evidence to support a change in the direction of our Dietary Guidelines, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are, by their own admission, very much consistent with the same recommendations that have been in place for thirty years and have not been tested for health benefits. The current 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans continue to recommend a diet based on low-fat, highly-processed grain and cereal products that has not been shown to be effective in improving the health of Americans.

The Healthy Nation Coalition does not advocate for a particular dietary approach. We recognize that many dietary patterns—from lacto-ovo-vegetarian to low-carbohydrate—are supported by science and can promote good health. Rather, our goal is to ensure that our Dietary Guidelines are based on a complete and objective evaluation of all available science, are evaluated for effectiveness, and are revised accordingly.

The Dietary Guidelines shape public health nutrition policy, inform the actions of the food industry, and guide the choices of American consumers.  You can read more about lack of scientific support for the proposed 2010 recommendations in the October issue of Nutrition.  For an overview of this article, check out the press release or see the abstract below.

To find out more about why the guidelines are not objective and science-based, read our policy brief for a summary of the history of the politics behind the guidelines.

Concerns that were raised with the first dietary recommendations thirty years ago have yet to be adequately addressed.  The initial Dietary Goals for Americans (1977) proposed increases in carbohydrate intake and reductions in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt consumption that are carried further in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) Report.  Important aspects of these recommendations remain unproven, yet a dietary shift in this direction has already taken place even as overweight/obesity and diabetes have increased.  While appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science.  An objective assessment of evidence in the report does not suggest a conclusive proscription against low-carbohydrate diets.  The report does not provide sufficient evidence to conclude that increases in whole grain and fiber and reductions in dietary saturated fat, salt, and animal protein will lead to positive health outcomes.  Lack of supporting evidence limits the value of the proposed recommendations as guidance for consumers or as the basis for public health policy. It is time to reexamine how US dietary guidelines are created and ask whether the current process is still appropriate for our needs.

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