The Human and Health Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently are working together to develop the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines, which is scheduled to be released by the end of this calendar year. The agencies provided an update on what will and would not be included in the latest round of recommendations to Congressional members.
Earlier this year, the appointed advisory committee submitted its scientific advisory report to HHS and USDA and was then posted for public comment and review. Hot topics in the 29,000 submitted comments included criticism over the inclusion of the impact of sustainability and exploration of the impact of food taxes such as a soda tax being considered or approved by some cities.
During a hearing with the House Agriculture Committee, HHS secretary Sylvia Burwell said although both the conversations about taxes and sustainability are “important conversations,” the dietary guidelines is not the appropriate document to address them in.
Although the guidelines are not expected to be finalized until December, Burwell said she expected the final guidelines to focus on healthy eating habits and food choices. “The elements of heathy eating patterns continue to include fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein-rich foods such as lean meats and seafood, and limit components like saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium.”
During the advisory report process, meat groups became concerned when there were some contradictory statements on the inclusion of lean meat in a healthy diet. Secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack said his understanding of the report is that recommendations on lean meat were fairly consistent with the recommendations of the 2010 guidelines. He said he would be “surprised” if the final conclusion is not to include lean meat as part of a healthy diet.
Philip Elis, National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. president, commended the secretaries in a written statement that the guidelines will not include “topics beyond the scope of nutrition and diet and also support their recognition of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats and other proteins as part of a healthy diet.”
In his opening comments and questioning, ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) told Vilsack that what he’s hearing from his constituents is that the dietary guidelines, as well as USDA and HHS for releasing the guidelines, have lost their credibility. “They’re just flat out ignoring it,” he told the secretaries during the hearing.
“For example, we were once told that butter and eggs were bad for you but now I guess they’re ok. People may be losing confidence in the guidelines,” Peterson warned. “I am a little concerned that we’ve lost sight of what we’re doing. There seems to be more focus on ideology and marketing food products than providing clear nutrition advice to the general public.”
Vilsack responded that the ChooseMyPlate.gov Website has received 290 million hits, which shows folks who are concerned with what they eat can utilize government resources to help make more educated decisions on what they eat. Vilsack added it is about prevention of health diseases, not treatment. The recommendations form the basis of federal nutrition policy, education, and outreach efforts used by consumers, industry, nutrition educators and health professionals.
The Nutrition Coalition, a newly established 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, was formed out of a growing concern that the dietary guidelines have not reflected the most conclusive and current science available – and that a thorough and transparent process for developing new guidelines is needed to ensure Americans are being recommended diets based on sound science.
The Coalition is comprised of some of the nation’s leading voices on nutrition, including three former members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee – the government-appointed commission in charge of developing the guidelines – as well as the former chair of the American Heart Assn.’s nutrition committee. Their Scientific Advisory Board consists of six leading science experts, including Ronald M. Krauss, the former two-term chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee.
“Many of the recommendations in the dietary guidelines are not based on conclusive science,” Krauss said. “In those cases, the guidelines should inform rather than recommend until there is more definitive evidence to support specific recommendations. It's therefore critical that funding for nutrition research be increased to support clinical trials that address crucial topics for which significant evidence gaps exist.”