Once every five years, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) hand down an updated version of the federal DGA. According to the official government website:
“The Dietary Guidelines is a critical tool for professionals to help Americans make healthy choices in their daily lives to help prevent chronic disease and enjoy a healthy diet. It serves as the evidence-based foundation for nutrition education materials that are developed by the Federal Government for the public.”
If ever Americans needed to prevent chronic disease—which we now know made people much more vulnerable to COVID-19—that time would be now.
But according to groups that have no financial stake in the guidelines, including the Nutrition Coalition and Corporate Accountability, this year’s process for improving the guidelines, once again, falls short of the mark.
Why does that matter?
According to a report from Corporate Accountability, the new DGA will impact the health and well-being of millions of pregnant women, mothers and newborns, especially of Black women, who already have pregnancy-related mortality rate approximately three times as high as that of white women.
The guidelines will also affect what more than 30 million school children eat each school day, and instruct the types of meals and nutrition advice the federal government provides to diabetics.
From the Corporate Accountability report:
“It would be difficult to overstate the importance of these recommendations to the public’s health and well-being, especially to communities of color that are most impacted by obesity and diet-related diseases. But the food and beverage industry, spanning from Big Meat processors, to the egg industry, to Big Soda, have spent millions of dollars lobbying the government to shape the DGAs that favor the industry’s bottom line – and this year is no different.
“Despite stating that the 2020-2025 ‘DGA development process is transparent, inclusive, and Science-driven,’ the current majority white 2020 DGAC [Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee] was nominated primarily by the food and beverage industry, including the American Society for Nutrition, American Beverage Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association [which is now Consumer Brands Association], National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Potato Council, Unilever and SNAC International, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the International Food Information Council Foundation.”
Corporate Accountability found that 55 percent of the committee members have ties with ILSI, an industry lobbying group founded by a former Coca-Cola executive and funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, and other Big Food and Beverage corporations.
In a letter to the USDA, Nutrition Coalition expressed concerns about “the lack of adherence, by the USDA, to a rigorous, verified methodology for its scientific reviews, as recommended by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).”
According to the coalition, the USDA failed to adopt NASEM recommendations to increase transparency and manage bias in the DGA. From the coalition’s letter:
“All of these recommendations are standard features of any high-quality scientific paper, and we consider it a matter of great urgency that a report upon which the health of the nation depends should also uphold these basic standards of good science . . . “
Glaringly absent from the DGA committee’s new guidelines, is any mention of organic fruits and vegetables, as opposed to non-organic. Given the pesticide load on non-organic fruits and vegetables, and the link between pesticides and a host of illnesses, including cancer, shouldn’t doctors and health officials be advised to recommend that everyone, especially children, eat organic?
The latest guidelines also recommend low-fat dairy, despite scientific evidence that children especially benefit from whole milk. The new guidelines also recommend unsaturated fats, despite the latest science to the contrary.
Americans can’t afford bad dietary advice, brought to them by the latest Junk Food Corp.
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for funding the DGA, can stipulate changes. More important, the committee has the power to demand an outside report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to try to provide more oversight to the Guidelines.
We deserve that.