by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Dietary-Guidelines

Jul 23 2015

Congress continues to intervene in Dietary Guidelines

Let’s review where we are on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) filed its scientific report in February.  More than 25,000 people filed comments.  Now, USDA and Health and Human Services staff must deal with the comments and write the actual dietary guidelines, the policy document scheduled for release later this year (see Timeline).

Recall that the DGAC report caused much controversy when it linked agricultural to health policy by recommending a diet that promotes health and protects the environment—one that is largely plant-based.

Lobbyists for food companies affected by such recommendations went straight to Congress.

The result?  Congress used the appropriations process to set limits on what the guidelines could say.

House Agricultural Appropriations Bill 

SEC. 734. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to release or implement the final version of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans…unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services comply with each of the following requirements:

(1) Each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and any new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans— (A) shall be based on scientific evidence that has been rated ‘‘Grade I: Strong’’ by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture; and (B) shall be limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrient intake.

(2) The Secretaries shall release a preliminary draft of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including a list of all the scientific studies and evidence supporting each revised or new nutritional or dietary information or guideline, for a period of public comment of at least days.

(3) Following the end of the public comment period, the Secretaries shall provide a period for agency review of public comments of at least 60 days.

Senate Agricultural Appropriations Bill 

SEC. 733. None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to issue, promulgate, or otherwise implement the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans edition unless the information and guidelines in the report are solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.

The White House Office of Management and Budget objected to the House provision:

The Administration strongly objects to using the appropriations process for objectionable language provisions that are wholly unnecessary to the operation of the nutrition programs…The Administration is also concerned with objectionable language that interferes with evidentiary standards, limiting the ability of USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop dietary recommendations based on the preponderance of the strongest available scientific evidence, as is current practice. The language would also delay the availability of updated guidelines.

The appropriations bills have not yet been reconciled or sent to the President.  Let’s hope Congress decides to leave nutrition advice to people who know something about it and stay out of it.

Jun 24 2015

Let’s stop Congress from interfering with the dietary guidelines, please

Politico Morning Agriculture reports today on an unprecedented move by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).  The committee sent a letter to members of Congress to protest legislative interference with its scientific process.

Recall: The DGAC’s research report alarmed meat producers when it said that sustainability needed to be considered in developing dietary guidelines.

Of course sustainability should be considered in developing dietary guidelines.  Agricultural policy needs to be linked to health policy, and it’s high time we did so.

But industry protests and letters from Congress induced USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to assure Congress that the 2015 guidelines will focus only on nutrition.

That was not enough.  Industry groups induced the House of Representatives to put this rider in the 2016 Agricultural Appropriations bill:

SEC. 734. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to release or implement the final version of the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, revised pursuant to section 301 of the National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990 (7 20 U.S.C. 5341), unless the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services comply with each of the following requirements:

(1) Each revision to any nutritional or dietary information or guideline contained in the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and any new nutritional or dietary information or guideline to be included in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans shall be based on

(A) scientific evidence that has been rated ‘‘Grade I: Strong’’ by the grading rubric developed by the Nutrition Evidence Library of the Department of Agriculture; and

(B) shall be limited in scope to only matters of diet and nutrient intake.

Politics in action!

As I told Politico Morning Agriculture, I’ve never heard of a DGAC writing directly to Congress.  But I understand its frustration.  The committee was asked by USDA and HHS to review and consider the science of diet and health and did so. It reported what its members believe the science says. Some segments of the food industry don’t like the science so they are using the political system to fight back. The idea that some members of Congress would go along with this is shameful.

CSPI has organized a letter-writing campaign to defeat the rider and provides these tools:

Let’s keep Congress out of the dietary guidelines process.  The process may not be perfect but scientific committees do the best they can to advice the public about dietary practices that are best for health—and, at long last, the environment.

Political interference with this process is not in the best interest of public health, and should be strongly discouraged.  If you agree with this view, CSPI makes it easy for you to say so.  Sign on now.

Update, June 25: Politico Morning Agriculture reports today that the Senate bill reads: “None of the funds appropriated in this Act may be used to issue, promulgate, or otherwise implement the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans edition unless the information and guidelines in the report are solely nutritional and dietary in nature; and based only on a preponderance of nutritional and dietary scientific evidence and not extraneous information.”

May 19 2015

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines: the saga continues

I am indebted to Pro Politico Morning Agriculture for this tidbit:

HOUSE AG COMMITTEE PRIES INTO DGAC COMMENT REVIEW: The chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee have requested that the USDA and HHS supply an accounting of how they intend to review the more than 29,000 public comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, as well as an accounting of the staff maneuvering that’s been required to review those thousands of comments in a timely manner.

In a letter sent by Reps. Michael Conaway and Collin Peterson, the committee has also requested more information on whether the departments will be able to deliver the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans document by the end of the year, as originally intended.

“Have you reconsidered that goal given the overwhelming number of comments that now need to be reviewed,” the letter states. “If not, do you intend to incorporate the review of the 29,000+ comments received into this work product, and how do you intend to complete that process?” You can read the full letter, which the lawmakers expect a response to by June 10, here: http://1.usa.gov/1EJcrSM

OK.  Let’s review the process here.

  • Congress, in its infinite wisdom, wants the Dietary  Guidelines reviewed and redone every five years.
  • We’ve had Dietary Guidelines every five years since 1980.  Their basic messages have not changed much.
  • The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) reviewed the research and issued a lengthy report.
  • The report was released for public comment.  More than 29,000 comments came in.
  • Now the agencies—USDA and HHS—must deal with the comments are write the actual Dietary Guidelines.

Until 2005, the DGACs wrote the actual guidelines with minimal editing from the agencies.  That was certainly how it worked in 1995 when I was on that committee.

We did the research and wrote guidelines based on that research.  The agencies published them pretty much as we wrote them.

That changed in 2005 under the Bush II administration.

By now, nutrition advice has become so politicized that the public—from individual consumers to corporations—has a say in them.

Which method helps the public eat healthier diets?

You decide.

I withholding judgment until I see how the agencies extract guidelines from the 650-page DGAC report and its 29,000 comments.

I’m guessing that after all this fuss, the guidelines will still basically say:

  • Healthy diets are based largely on foods from plant sources (eat your veggies)
  • Don’t eat too much sugar, salt, or saturated fat (avoid junk food)
  • Don’t gain excess weight if you can avoid it (balance calories)

Good advice.  Too bad that following it does not increase profits for the food industry.

Apr 30 2015

Due May 8: Comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

You still have time to file comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report.

Here’s where and how.

I’ve just been sent the comments from

Yours don’t have to be lengthy, formal, or cover everything.

You just need to identify the issue, state your opinion, and indicate what you want the guidelines to do or say.

Your opinion counts.  Do it now!

Apr 13 2015

Write to Congress. File comments on the Dietary Guidelines.

Everyone I speak to in Washington, DC says the same thing: if you want policies to change in favor of healthy food systems, you must contact members of Congress and say what you think they should do.  If they get comments on issues, they listen.  If they don’t, nothing will change.

It’s not hard to send an e-mail or telephone your representatives.

Thanks to Jerry Hagstrom, who writes the invaluable Hagstrom Report, for producing instant guides and contact information to members of the Senate and House agriculture committees.

As for the contentious 2015 Dietary Guidelines: the comment period has been extended to May 8.  The agencies make it easy to file comments.  Do it here.

The comments don’t need to be long or complicated.  Just indicate identify yourself, state the topic you are concerned about, say what you’d like the guidelines to say, and if possible add a reference or two.

Do this and you will be encouraging the agencies to do the right thing.

If you don’t, who will?

Addition, April 14:  Here’s a video explanation of how to file comments on the dietary guidelines.

Mar 24 2015

My Plate, My Planet: Support Sustainability in Dietary Guidelines

I signed an today’s ad in the New York Times to encourage support for considering sustainability in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

Screenshot 2015-03-24 09.34.08

We need health policies that consider agriculture and agricultural policies that consider health.

Here are:

Feb 28 2015

Vilsack: Guidelines committee members are like 3-year-olds

Yesterday’s Hagstrom Report quotes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s comments to the Commodity Classic on the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

The “folks who put those reports together … have freedom. They are like my 3-year-old granddaughter. She does not have to color inside the lines.”

His 5-year-old grandson, he said, “is learning about coloring within the lines.”

“I am going to color inside the lines,” Vilsack said.

Sounds like the USDA has no intention of doing what the DGAC recommends.

This is why it’s so important to file comments @ www.DietaryGuidelines.gov by April 8.  You can also register there for the public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 24.

Addition, March 10: Secretary Vilsack’s speech and press conference remarks are here.

 

Feb 23 2015

Dietary guidelines shouldn’t be this controversial

The uproar caused by the release of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has been even noisier than I predicted, so noisy that USDA Secretary Vilsack appears to have pulled back on it.  He told Jerry Hagstrom (HagstromReport.com) that:

He wants people to realize that the process of writing the dietary guidelines “is just beginning today,” and that he and [HHS Secretary] Burwell will consider input from federal agencies and the general public. He said he wants to be sure that people “know that I know my responsibility.”

In this, Vilsack was referring to the directive by Congress in the 2015 appropriations bill blocking him from considering sustainability in the guidelines.

As for the DGAC report: It concluded:

…the U.S. population should be encouraged and guided to consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.

Predictably, this did not go over well with the meat industry or, for that matter, other industries affected by such advice or groups funded by such industries.

Less predictably, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Nina Teicholz, the journalist author of “The Big Fat Surprise,” a work based on her own review of the science of fat.  In her view, mainstream nutritionists have badly misinterpreted this science to the great detriment of public health.

Her conclusion:

…we would be wise to return to what worked better for previous generations: a diet that included fewer grains, less sugar and more animal foods like meat, full-fat dairy and eggs.

But Teicholz’ book has been the subject of a line-by-line analysis by Seth Yoder (whom I do not know personally).  Mr. Yoder did what graduate students in science are trained to do: read the references.

He looked up and examined the references Teicholz cites in the book as the basis of her views.  He documents an astonishing number of situations in which the references say something quite different from what Teicholz gets out of them.  At the very least, his analysis raises serious questions about the credibility of her views on the science of fat.

Let’s grant that the science of nutrition is difficult to do and complicated.  The New York Times should know this, which is why I’m surprised that it would give Teicholz so prominent a platform without countering them with point-counterpoint views of a respected nutrition scientist.

It does little to foster the health of the public to make nutrition science appear more controversial than it really is.

The basic advice offered by 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee boils down to plain common sense:

  • Eat plenty of foods from plant sources
  • Eat foods from animal sources in moderation
  • Balance calories
  • Avoid overeating junk food

Unfortunately, this kind of advice doesn’t make headlines or, apparently, merit op-ed space in the New York Times.

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