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While the core of the work will be to create science-based data to help “reduce food insecurity and promote nutritious diets among the American people,” self-interest will certainly be on the table as well.

Chuck Jolley

July 16, 2019

6 Min Read
Dinner plate combat over revised dietary guidelines?

Twice a decade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health & Human Services work to revise Dietary Guidelines, based on the most up-to-date research.

Dozens of extremely well-credentialed PhDs are invited to join the scrum, 20 of them to work on the 'mastermind' committee.

The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will be chaired by Barbara Schneeman, PhD, and Ron Kleinman, M.D. will serve as vice chair. We shall call them the best and brightest.

But every part of the human diet is slapped under a cross-eyed microscope -- pregnancy and birth to 24 months, expenditures on children by families, the effects of alcohol, anything and everything that might or could be part of the American dinner plate. To accomplish this mighty workload, scores of experts in their particular field are appointed to scores of subcommittees.

The core of their work is to create science-based data to help the USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) “reduce food insecurity and promote nutritious diets among the American people.”

FNS administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that claim to “leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat.” The service is charged with co-developing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans with cohorts at the HHS Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion.

The work is in its very early stage -- just two meetings so far with a third scheduled for October. The call for comments will be answered by lobbyists from every food association in the nation -- hundreds of them are already lining up to bump-and-bruise their way to the top of Washington's predatory food chain.

You've heard the phrase "Only the strong survive"? Not here. Too much money is on the table. The weak are consumed before breakfast. The merely strong survive to become nothing more than tasty little morsels on the lunch time cold cuts buffet. It takes immense strength and Grand Canyon deep finances to make it to the dinner table.

It's usually the promise of delivering important voting blocs and real money that carry the day in designing America's suggested dinner plate. Science be damned; it too often got the short end during previous Administrations. The current Administration, with its well-known aversion to the loathsome rigors of modern science, won't even set a children's table in the backyard for that pesky little devil.

What will hit the sharp blades of the rapidly rotating fecal fan is a plethora of “funded research” offered by each trade association proving its own interest is the most valid, so that other guy's “white paper” must have been done by a well-paid charlatan. Hired guns capable of churning out favorable data are well-known in the food industry.

So, I was fascinated by one of the opening salvos. The National Provisioner has just reported that, "More than 50 doctors across the U.S. signed an open letter to the USDA calling on the organization to overhaul the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and ensure that recommendations are for all Americans." The letter ran in the New York Times and Washington Post.

The open letter was spearheaded by Atkins Nutritionals Inc., which calls itself "a mission-based organization focused on improving global health" and claims to have actively advocated for the dietary guidelines to reflect current, quality science.

Now for full 'follow the money' disclosure -- From Wikipedia: "Robert Atkins founded Atkins Nutritionals Inc., in 1989 to promote the low-carbohydrate products of his increasingly popular Atkins diet. This diet was developed after Atkins read a research paper in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. The paper, entitled 'Weight Reduction,' was published by Alfred W. Pennington in 1958. Atkins used information from the study to resolve his own overweight condition.

“The company emerged from bankruptcy in 2007 owned by North Castle Partners, with a softened marketing emphasis on the low-carbohydrate aspect of its products and an attempt to emphasize the overall nutritional value of its line of foods. It now has in place a business strategy concentrating on sales of nutrition bars and shakes."

The letter says 72% of Americans have a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese range and 52% have either diabetes or prediabetes.  In addition, it suggests that more than 20% of all healthcare spending in the U.S. is on obesity-related illnesses.

Joseph E. Scalzo, president and chief executive officer, The Simply Good Foods Co., chimed in immediately: "We believe that it is critical for the U.S. government to overhaul the U.S. Dietary Guidelines and provide nutrition guidance that uses today's science and promotes healthier eating habits, recognizing a low-carbohydrate eating approach as a viable option for people. Doing this can improve our nation's health and reduce medical costs. The dietary guidelines have unfortunately taken America down the path of overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugar, resulting in less healthy citizens."

Personally, I can't wait to hear the wounded-to-the-core-of-their-very-soul response from the National Pasta Assn. or the American Sugarbeet Growers Assn.

Fun fact: Did you know the National Pasta Assn. was originally formed as The National Association of Macaroni and Noodle Manufacturers of America in 1904, making it one of the oldest trade associations in the U.S.?)

Atkins Nutritionals is a subsidiary of the Simply Good Foods Co.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA), working hand-in-hand with its brother-from-another-mother, the North American Meat Institute, is also stepping on the scales during the early weigh-in for this bare-knuckles, forget-the-Marquis-of-Queensberry rules food fight. Shalene McNeill, PhD, RD, NCBA executive director of nutrition research, said, “Beef is a high-quality protein powerhouse providing a unique combination of bioavailable iron, zinc and B vitamins essential to building and maintaining strength from infancy through our later years.”

McNeill spoke from the strength of her background, saying, “As a registered dietitian, nutrition scientist and advocate for healthy eating, (I think) it’s important for people who include beef as a source of nourishment and satisfaction in a healthy diet to know that the best science available today continues to reinforce this is a smart approach for a healthy lifestyle.”

NCBA also stepped beyond mere science and plucked at America's heart strings, saying that "beef is rich in nostalgia and has been enjoyed for centuries and continues to be part of most Americans’ diets, traditions and celebrations." Hamburgers, all-beef hot dogs or a good steak on the grill, anyone?

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