by Marion Nestle
Oct 7 2015

The bizarre saga of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines: Continued

Two events yesterday:

#1.  USDA and HHS announce that sustainability will not be part of the Dietary Guidelines.

This year, we will release the 2015 edition, and though the guidelines have yet to be finalized, we know they will be similar in many key respects to those of past years. Fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats and other proteins, and limited amounts of saturated fats, added sugars and sodium remain the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle.

…In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.”  The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.

OK, but see Michele Simon’s analysis of the legal issues related to sustainability in the guidelines, and My Plate My Planet’s analysis of the comments filed on the sustainability question.

As my analysis shows, the USDA and HHS would be well within its legal authority to include sustainability. In summary:

    • A plain reading of the statute does not preclude sustainability;
    • The Congressional intent was to further a broad agenda on health;
    • Previous DGA versions included issues beyond “nutrition and diet”.

And also see Kathleen Merrigan et al’s argument in favor of sustainable dietary guidelines in Science Magazine.

So this is about politics, not science.

#2.  A coalition of critics of the Dietary Guidelines is attempting to block their release.

Yesterday’s Hagstrom Report and, later, Politico (both behind paywalls) reported that this group is calling on  USDA and HHS to turn over the guidelines to a committee of the National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board for reexamination before releasing them to the public.

The issues?  The meat and beverage recommendations.

The group is funded by philanthropists Laura and John D. Arnold, who fund Nina Teicholz’s work.

Teicholz is on the board of the group as is Cheryl Achterberg, dean of the Ohio State University College of Education, and John Billings, who directs the Wagner School’s Health Policy and Management Program at NYU (why they agreed to do this is beyond me).

Hagstrom notes that coordinating support is coming from Beth Johnson, a former undersecretary for food safety at USDA who has her own consulting firm with clients apparently including the National Restaurant Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Other members of the advisory board include several scientists who do research funded by food companies.

The Coalition’s website is here.

This morning’s Politico Pro Agriculture has a long piece on the funding behind the coalition.

In the lead up to congressional hearings on the proposed 2015 dietary guidelines, the Arnolds are spending an initial $200,000 to communicate that critique and to advocate for changes that they say would improve the process. They have funded the new political action group, called The Nutrition Coalition, whose well-placed lobbyists have helped Teicholz score face-to-face meetings with top officials in Congress and the White House to push for an independent review of the guideline process. The team helped persuade lawmakers to insert language in the fiscal 2016 House agriculture spending bill to direct the National Academy of Medicine to conduct such a review.

Really? Eating fruits and vegetables and not overeating calories requires this level of lobbying?

This too is about politics.

The mind boggles.


The Hagstrom Report is keeping track of the testimony at today’s congressional hearing on the guidelines.

  • NutrIntrested

    I clicked through to the coalitions website and it says “Neither TNC nor ANI is backed by any industry group of any kind.”. Looking at the sole funding source, i.e. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation, they give their mission statement as “Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s core objective is to address our nation’s most pressing and persistent challenges using evidence-based, multi-disciplinary approaches.”

    This sounds like a noble goal, but your comment “This too is about politics.” makes me think there may be more to the story. I had a quick go at ‘following the money’, but it hasn’t helped me spot what it is. Could you elaborate?

  • beancounter

    It’s about politics? Do you think? Where ever Michele Simon or Kathleen Merrigan show up you can bet your sweet ass it is now about politics.

    Kathleen Merrigan cherrypicking winners and losers by authority of a vague and biased definition of sustainability. Nothing political about any of that. What could possibly go wrong? This Merrigan woman makes me cringe.

  • mrfreddy

    “Eating fruits and vegetables and not overeating calories requires this level of lobbying?”

    Of course not, this statement is preposterous. Disingenuous, at best.

    Ignoring the current science to make food recommendations that affect the health of millions, I dunno, gee, I think that needs to be investigated. And stopped. This nonsense has gone on far too long.

  • Fool Me Twice

    Thank goodness for small miracles. Even HHS and USDA can see the writing on the wall. The concept of sustainability might once have had meaningful application in biology had it not been co-opted and bastardized by activists. Now “sustainability” is a muddled notion variably defined pretty much any way any activist prefers in order to best support a desired agenda. It conveniently paints the bullseye around any cluster of cherrypicked data points in a logical fallacy called the “texas sharpshooter”

    By incorporating sustainability in the dietary guidelines activists could unfailing paint a bright red official bullseye on any food system feature they might chose to target. Wanna reduce meat? Itching to eliminate almonds? Peeved about anything food or agriculture related? No problem, just dial in a definition of sustainability that authorizes you to declare them verboten!

  • melancholyaeon

    Hi Marion:

    I’m just so sad to see you continue down this road of personal attack on Nina Teichholz, since she’s actually your friend against sugar & poor diet. I know her book criticizes the current understanding of calories, while you have written a successful book defending that understanding.

    But if you look past this one disagreement, you two are largely on the same page against Big Soda. I do wish you’d consider focusing on points of agreement to improve US public health.

    “Teicholz is on the board of the group as is Cheryl Achterberg, dean of the Ohio State University College of Education, and John Billings, who directs the Wagner School’s Health Policy and Management Program at NYU (why they agreed to do this is beyond me).”

    Because, Marion, the science since 2010 has begun to move in Nina’s direction, and has accelerated since 2013. Why else to you think the best international experts like Astrup, Willett, Hu & Malhotra have shifted positions? Once the thought-leaders recognize the value of contemporary science, other responsbile academics will likewise adopt it.

    Again, Marion, I urge you to speak with Astrup yourself. Don’t fall behind the gathering science. Together we can all combat the problem of added sugars & soda. 😀 Best wishes.

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  • Timar

    Funny how all those poorly concealed lobbyist responses always pop up immediately after Marion publishes an article about the Dietary Guidelines. The Industry has to be very afraid of her and of the whole food movement indeed. I wonder, though, whether who actually reads all this blatant and repetitive rhetoric besides perhaps the shills themselves, when upvoting their colleagues’ comments? I sure would, if I would get paid the same amount of money for reading them as they get paid for writing them 😉

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  • oehaut

    Here is a recent review (october 2015) from the top-expert in this field, including Willett and Mozaffarian.

    Food Consumption and its Impact on Cardiovascular Disease: Importance of Solutions Focused on the Globalized Food System

    Here’s the conclusion :

    On the basis of the current evidence, the traditional Mediterranean-type diet, including plant foods and emphasis on plant protein sources provides a well-tested healthy dietary pattern to reduce CVD.

    Look at the recommended reduce consumption food : less red meat, processed meat, and SFAs.

    Hummm. Is that the position of Nina? Don’t think so. Fail to see where the science have been moving in Nina’s direction since 2010.

  • Michelle

    Can you be more specific? Some references to this current research papers would go a long way…so that I may properly educate myself, of course. 😉

  • carbsane

    This is Beth Johnson’s organization.

    Welcome to Food Directions LLC! Founded in 2010 by Beth K. Johnson, Food Directions is a boutique government relations firm specializing in food policy from farm to fork.

    Food Directions operates at the intersection of food policy where science, legislation, and regulation meet. With the credentials and expertise to understand the science and a thorough understanding of the interconnectedness of the legislative and regulatory process, we follow all issues related to agriculture, food safety, and nutrition policy at the federal, state, and international level. Headquartered in Washington, with deep relationships within federal agencies like FDA and USDA, and on Capitol Hill, Food Directions is plugged into the ever-changing dynamic. By providing technical expertise, counsel, and strategic direction, Food Directions can assist you in navigating the cluttered, and sometimes overwhelming, food policy environment.

    No behind-paywall info needed. She is listed as Coordinator, and Maggie Gentile as Treasurer of The Nutrition Coalition.

  • Andre

    Many on single post, throwaway accounts, too.

  • marTin

    Oh yes! And most amusing is how, at a snap of her fingers Nestle has all her minions leaping to hunt down and silence any threat of competition, like from supporters of this dreadful Nina person. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a good smearing of an opponent, is there? All the righteous indignation, the gratuitous Kabuki theater, the shadowy sleuthing, the juicy conspiracy theories. Oh, and the guilty thrill of throwing stones from the doorway of our very own glass houses. Puerile excitement that really gets the bile flowing first thing every morning. Much better than caffeine.

  • marTin

    From the “top-expert”! Yikes! Be careful to not tell us who that actually is because we like to believe mysterious stuff and if you don’t have the suspense we don’t believe you. But, wow, the top-expert that must be like the Elvis of dieting coaches! I wasn’t sure but you have convinced me so who do I write the check out to, you?

  • carbsane

    I have been discussing issues of this nature on my blog for years now, and looking into Teicholz’s work since she popped up out of nowhere on the radar. Worse, NObody in the mainstream seemed to give a critical thought to her book. Big Fat Surprise is RIDDLED with error — not just innocent mistakes either, but deliberate misdirection and outright lies.

    Who are these minions of which you speak?

  • oehaut

    Nina must be really proud to have top intellectual such as yourself as a follower. You win for the most retarted comment I have come across this year. Congrats!

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  • jason

    John Arnold couldn’t find anyone better than Nina Teicholz, who has no formal background in science, to meet with high officials in DC to discuss how to interpret science? Nina basically copied Taubes Good Calories, Bad Calories book which promotes an Atkins diet high in animal fat. Like Teicholz, Taubes, with no science publications, also receives funding from Arnold, and has received about $40 million to fund diet studies (to be conducted by scientists) which Taubes is hoping will show a metabolic advantage of diets high in animal fat. Arnold, also with no background in science, thinks that it’s simply a matter of putting enough money into a study and that such a study will show once and for all what causes obesity, as if there is one cause (carbohydrates, as Taubes hopes). On the Canadian side, Teicholz was invited by Nova Scotia conservative Senator Kelvin Ogilvie to speak. Ogilvie said Teicholz was selected because of her “well-articulated point of view that contradicts social assumptions around diet.” Those sound like some outstanding science credentials.

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