NUTRITION COALITION SAYS DIETARY GUIDELINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE EXPERT REPORT BASED ON WEAK SCIENCE
Jul. 16, 2020
Source: The Nutrition Coalition news release
Washington, D.C. - Following today's release of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's (DGAC) expert report, which will serve as the underpinning for the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), the Nutrition Coalition, a non-profit group that aims to bring rigorous science to nutrition policy, urged the agencies overseeing the process, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services (USDA-HHS), to make important changes ahead of the release of the Guidelines in order to redress the significant problems with the expert report.
The main concerns have to do with a lack of any transparent, verified methodology used in reviewing the science and the exclusion of large bodies of scientific literature, including all the clinical trials on weight loss and the last decade of new science on saturated fats.
The Dietary Guidelines, issued once every five years, have far-reaching influence. Prescribed by most doctors and dieticians as well as driving the many programs included in the USDA's feeding assistance division, including the National School Lunch Program, SNAP and WIC, the Guidelines are arguably the most powerful lever on America's ideas about healthy eating.
The Nutrition Coalition is concerned about numerous issues in the current process including:
• The fact that the Dietary Guidelines addresses only healthy Americans, despite the fact that 60% of Americans now live with one or more diet-related, chronic disease, that Congress mandated the Guidelines to be for the "general public," and that the Guidelines recommendations are administered, via school lunch programs, feeding programs for the elderly, etc., to the sick and well alike.
• The exclusion, by the DGAC, of virtually all clinical trials on weight loss.
The exclusion of the last decade of science on saturated fats, which cumulatively shows that these fats do not have any effect on cardiovascular or total mortality.
• The exclusion of all the science on low-carbohydrate diets (>65 clinical trials).
• The continued use of a 'black box' methodology that is not transparent about how data is evaluated or graded and is therefore not reproducible-a hallmark of good science.
• The fact that USDA-HHS have rejected the majority of recommendations made by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in its report on the DGA process. This 2017 report was the result of a Congressional mandate and cost taxpayers $1M. It was also the first-ever outside peer review of the DGA process.
• The lack of transparency about major conflicts of interest on the DGAC, which include multiple ties to the food industry and the fact that more than half of the committee has ties to ILSI, a group dominated by multinational food and pharma interests.
"The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) made specific recommendations about how to improve the rigor and transparency of the Guidelines process so that this policy could be 'trustworthy' and 'reliable,'" said Nina Teicholz, science journalist and Executive Director of the Nutrition Coalition.
"Unfortunately, these recommendations have been ignored. Without critical reforms, this policy is on track to do virtually nothing to reverse the epidemics of disease that are causing enormous suffering and the loss of 1.8 million lives per year. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee said it would not address obesity or other diet-related diseases. This is difficult to understand. With more than 60% of the population now suffering from these diseases, where can these Americans turn for help if not to the Dietary Guidelines? At this point, one has to ask if these Guidelines are even relevant," said Teicholz.
"Despite protests by a number of public health groups and thousands of individuals, including hundreds of doctors, a member of Congress and an anonymous member of the DGAC itself, the committee continues to ignore or exclude large bodies of scientific literature. It continues to focus exclusively on "healthy" Americans while ignoring all the science that could help the 60% of Americans with one or more diet-related diseases. And the committee continues to use a 'black-box' methodology that obscures crucial information about how data is graded and evaluated. All of this runs contrary to recommendations by the National Academies of Sciences," said Teicholz.
In addition, the guidelines make no accommodations for people of different racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds. Despite talking extensively throughout the DGA process about the need to recognize diverse ethnic/racial needs, the Committee nevertheless appeared to rely predominantly on studies on white, middle-class populations.
In 2015, following a hearing on the DGA process by the House Committee on Agriculture, Congress mandated that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) review the process. NASEM's 2017 reviews comprised the first-ever outside peer review of the DGA process and cost taxpayers approximately one million dollars.
NASEM's report on the process stated, "to develop a trustworthy DGA, the process needs to be redesigned." The report identified a series of recommendations intended to strengthen the scientific integrity of the DGA process, including measures to enhance transparency, manage biases and conflicts of interest, and most importantly, to ensure a rigorous scientific review process. However, in 2019, USDA stated that due to "time and resource constraints" it would not adopt many of the NASEM's recommendations.