Grilled Asparagus

Grilled Dietary Guidelines

This week on Capitol Hill, the House Agriculture Committee was serving up grilled dietary guidelines. In a rare show of bipartisan unity, both Democrats and Republicans expressed concern about the credibility of the new guidelines, which are due to be introduced by the end of the year. Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson summed up what seemed to be on everyone’s mind:

“People may be losing confidence in the guidelines. Given the public’s skepticism we should maybe reconsider why we are doing this.”

Even before HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appeared before the committee, they took one of the most contentious issues off the table. Meat producers have been ticked about recommendations favoring less meat consumption, based upon concerns about the environmental sustainability of meat production. In a joint statement, Burwell and Vilsack said:

“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.”

In other words, the handwriting was on the wall. The meat producers have won the debate on this issue. It’s a familiar debate that goes back to the very beginning of the dietary guidelines in 1977. Dietary Goals for the United States, issued then, became known as the “McGovern Report.” Industry’s anger with this report contributed to Senator George McGovern’s defeat in the next election after his committee issued it.

The presidents of the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a sadly futile plea just before Wednesday’s hearing. “Keep politics out of dietary guidelines.”

President Patrick Stover of the American Society for Nutrition issued a statement late yesterday that both endorsed the “sound evidence-based process” for developing the guidelines and acknowledged that:

“There are many stakeholders in setting nutrition policy and public health guidance.”

The scientists and experts who served on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are feeling a bit dazed by the intense political attention. These are smart people who worked hard to produce a solid report.

Efforts to ground dietary guidance in science are worthwhile. But such efforts will never succeed without accounting for the reality that nutrition guidance arouses intense political and nearly religious fervor.

Click here to read more from the Washington Post and here to read more from the Atlantic.

Grilled Asparagus, photograph © woodleywonderworks / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


October 9, 2015