The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) will release its draft scientific report June 17 via a public meeting webinar to stakeholders. However, there are new calls for delays as well as for changes to the guidelines.
The final report will be provided to the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services this summer. USDA and HHS will then work together to develop and finalize the "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans" and update MyPlate by December 2020.
There’s a growing chorus of concerns regarding the “narrow scope and flawed scientific process” of the guidelines, the Nutrition Coalition said in a release. Multiple groups as well as a member of Congress are now urging the DGAC to delay the report to ensure that USDA and HHS have adequate time to review and address the concerns.
Last week, a number of groups, including the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND), Food for Health Alliance, Low-Carb Action Network and Nutrition Coalition asked for a delay in the DGAC expert report until the myriad scientific and other problems can be addressed.
Rep. Dusty Johnson (R., S.D.), ranking member of the House agriculture subcommittee on nutrition, oversight and department operations, stated in a letter to the secretaries that "after repeated failures of the [Dietary Guidelines for Americans] to prevent, much less reverse, the worsening diet-related health of Americans, it is time for the DGAC to stop digging the hole it’s standing in.”
Johnson noted, “The American people deserve trustworthy nutrition policy based on a comprehensive review of the most rigorous science. Without reforms, this process is on track to exclude large bodies of scientific literature, including virtually all studies on weight loss. What good are guidelines that don’t address obesity?”
“These guidelines are once again -- tragically -- on track to do virtually nothing to reverse the epidemics of disease that are the cause of enormous suffering and great economic cost,” Nutrition Coalition executive director Nina Teicholz said.
AND, which represents some 107,000 dieticians, made two public comments. The first included strong statements about the need to delay the expert report in order to complete the scientific reviews properly. The second detailed the problems with the scientific process, noting a lack of clear methodology and the need to expand the scope of the dietary guidelines to include not only healthy Americans but also those with diet-related diseases. For instance, the 2020 DGAC has chosen to exclude virtually all of the science on weight loss at a time when a large majority of Americans are overweight or obese -- conditions that are closely tied to the development of other diet-related diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
“A Dietary Guidelines that does not address the two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or have obesity is, in our view, a nutrition policy that lacks relevance to much of the general public and reflects an insufficient review of the science,” AND stated in its second comment.
The Food for Health Alliance, in its public comments, observed that the evidence base “for many analyses came from studies predominantly on white, upper-middle-class individuals” and that the guidelines did not make accommodations for racial or ethnic minorities, underserved communities, older people or for the 60% of Americans with a diet-related chronic disease — all of whom have unique nutritional and dietary needs.
A letter by the Low-Carb Action Network, a group advocating for low-carb diets, objected to the DGAC’s exclusion of virtually all scientific studies on low-carb diets -- a problem Johnson also emphasized.
Earlier, the Nutrition Coalition, in a letter to the USDA and HHS secretaries, detailed an extensive series of allegations by one or more member(s) of the DGAC who blew the whistle on the process. The problems included the lack of consistent standards for the scientific reviews, the extensive exclusion of evidence, the lack of follow-through on many proposed issues — in essence, an overall picture of "cutting corners" on the science. The DGAC member(s) also expressed concern that USDA had not adopted a majority of recommendations by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine issued in a congressionally mandated report to ensure that the guidelines could be “trustworthy.”
Additionally, the public continues to voice its concerns, with more than 62,000 public comments submitted to USDA and HHS when the comment period closed on June 10. Some 7,200 additional messages have been sent to Congress from concerned citizens and health care professionals from across the country focusing on the urgent need for a more rigorous process to produce more reliable guidelines.
As Johnson wrote, “If Americans were free to ignore the guidelines in setting their dietary goals, we might make progress in reducing rates of diet-related diseases. However, the guidelines are required guidance for federal feeding programs, including the School Lunch Program, military rations, feeding programs for the elderly and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and they serve as the basis for recommendations by physicians and dietitians as well as for the Nutrition Facts Panel on food packaging. Thus, their influence is pervasive in determining the foods consumed by Americans.”
“Ensuring that the 2020 [dietary guidelines are] based on a comprehensive review of the best and most current science is of fundamental importance,” Teicholz said. “The fact that many dozens, if not hundreds, of studies are being excluded by the DGAC is unconscionable. This and other problems must be addressed before the expert report can be published.”
Dairy groups comment
Comments from the International Dairy Foods Assn. (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) also asked the DGAC to include the full body of scientific literature from recent years showing that dairy foods seem to have either neutral or beneficial effects on health outcomes.
“We would like to reiterate our strong view, as explained more fully in previous comments to the DGAC, that a body of science in recent years has found that dairy foods, regardless of fat level, appear to have either neutral or beneficial effects on chronic disease risks,” NMPF wrote in a letter co-signed with IDFA. “We are concerned that a number of well-recognized studies appear to have been excluded from consideration.”
Based on the draft conclusions that have been released ahead of the draft DGAC report, IDFA said it believes the 2020 report will maintain the important role of low-fat and fat-free dairy in federal dietary guidance and recommended eating patterns, and also maintain dairy’s important place as its own food group. The 2015-2020 version of the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" both affirms the unrivaled nutritional contribution made by dairy foods and reminds Americans that a healthy diet for ages nine years and older includes three daily servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy. No other type of food or beverage provides the unique combination of nutrients that dairy contributes to the American diet, including protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium.
If the committee fails to examine the validity of existing dietary advice, “this will represent a lost opportunity to share newer science with consumers, health professionals and policy-makers and contribute to ongoing confusion about the healthfulness of dairy,” the letter said.