Still Life with Seven Apples

Seven Points of Misinformation on American Dietary Guidelines

“Trust no one.” This classic line sets up thrillers, mysteries, and the moment we seem to be living. Trust in institutions is low and misinformation proliferates through electronic and social media. Because we are in the middle of a very careful, transparent, and public process for developing a new edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, people with vested interests in the outcome are already busy chipping away at their credibility – relying on misinformation.

Recognizing this, nutrition and health professionals from USDA and HHS have published a guide to seven points of misinformation currently in play about the dietary guidelines in development.

1. Rigor and Science

When someone doesn’t like what the guidelines say, this is the message point they lean into: they’re ignoring nutrition science. Most often this means that the guidelines don’t elevate a pet theory of the author. But the fact is that the guidelines process is painstaking in following three methods to capture the current state of nutrition science: data analysis, food pattern modeling, and systematic reviews through the NESR process.

2. Systematic Review Standards

Can we really trust systematic reviews from the government?

After the 2015 Dietary Guidelines emerged, Congress mandated a review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to identify strengths and opportunities. NASEM affirmed the strengths of the NESR process for systematic reviews and the importance of the Continuous Quality Advancement initiative of the NESR.

3. Transparency

This one is laughable. The painstaking transparency of the process for developing the Dietary Guidelines is so tedious that it feels like we are watching paint dry. Public hearings, public comments, and committee proceedings are out there for everyone to see and bring their views to the table. It is tedious and thorough.

4. Independence

Because the process is so tightly controlled to ensure integrity, quality, and transparency, it’s little wonder that some might say the government has this process locked down and independent scientists can’t bring in their views. But the mandate of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is that their report must represent the collective independent judgment of committee members – not USDA and HHS.

5. Conflicts

This favorite of cynics is especially grating. Folks who suspect the guidelines will not fully support their agendas start from day one, saying “the dietary guidelines process is rife with conflicts of interest.” This is a classic ploy, comparable to attacking an umpire. But it ignores the painstaking vetting process that appointees endure before they can join the committee that recommends guidelines.

6. Broad Utility

When critics suggest dietary guidelines are only suitable for perfectly healthy individuals and adults, they are leaning into an outdated view. Today the guidelines process is tuned to meet the needs of people living with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The guidelines are not, however, intended to serve the purpose of treating chronic diseases.

7. Cultural Diversity

This has been an area of real progress for the guidelines. The 2020 guidelines placed an increased emphasis on addressing cultural diversity in nutrition. We expect to see even more of this with an added emphasis on health equity in the 2025 guidelines.

Skeptical, Yes; Cynical, No

In sum, it is right to be skeptical about any dietary guidelines because producing them is an incredibly complex task. There is always room for questions and improvement. New science is always emerging.

But cynicism is a formula for nihilism. Guidelines are a foundation for progress toward better dietary health.

Click here for this new article in AJCN.

Still Life with Seven Apples, painting by Paul Cezanne / WikiArt

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April 15, 2024

2 Responses to “Seven Points of Misinformation on American Dietary Guidelines”

  1. April 15, 2024 at 7:23 am, David Brown said:

    The Nutrition Evidence Systematic Review (NESR) team conducts food- and nutrition-related systematic reviews, rapid reviews, and evidence scans that answer important public health-related questions relevant to Federal policy and programs.
    On the NESR web page I initiated an ‘arachidonic acid’ search. There was one result which said, “Limited evidence suggests that intake of linoleic acid, but not arachidonic acid, during adulthood may be associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, including cardiovascular disease mortality.”

  2. April 15, 2024 at 8:25 am, Neva Cochran said:

    Love this! You nailed it again, Ted. Thanks for your painstaking support of science always.