Make science and public health the focus of dietary guidelines

The vested nutrition industry establishment and media pundits are fervently trying to paint a partisan and big-business picture of the House and Senate bills that call for re-evaluation of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines to ensure they are based on strong science. 

This decision is about recognizing the reality that 35 years of cookie-cutter nutritional guidance has failed.  This isn’t about special interests – this is about public health. 

{mosads}The U.S. is one of the unhealthiest affluent nations. We’ve all seen the numbers – adult obesity rates have doubled since the 1980 guidelines were released and they are set to increase by another 50 percent by 2030.  Childhood obesity and diabetes have tripled.  A recent viewpoint in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirmed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight and roughly 25 million have diabetes.   

For three decades the nutritional guidance has promoted low-fat eating to promote heart health.  It is now becoming clear that the guidance was based on scant evidence and there are now more credible scientific studies that show the current nutrition recommendations have had it wrong.  This wouldn’t be the first time.  We have been told that eggs were bad, butter was bad, and margarine was good.  All of those recommendations have been reversed, but was there ever any solid evidence to decry them in the first place, or were those making guideline recommendations looking to ratify preconceived hypotheses?   

If these recommendations were scientifically and nutritionally sound for public health, why have our waistlines been expanding and the incidence of type-2 diabetes been spiraling out of control? Instead of focusing on the inescapable truth that many Americans are over-consuming sugars and starches, we have been told that increasing obesity and rates of disease are about individual foods, rather than the quality of the overall diet and what people are likely to eat to achieve their total daily caloric intake. Nutrient dense whole foods, like eggs, butter, meat and cheese have been discouraged in the diet and replaced with nutrient poor sugars and starches, which are clearly fueling the obesity and diabetes epidemic.

We commend Congress for stepping in to prevent another five-year extension of a government-sponsored public health disaster. 

Overwhelming evidence continues to mount showing that we’ve been misguided.  Why do we continue on a journey down this rabbit-hole by making dietary guideline recommendations that are unsupported by the most recent science, and don’t reflect the health needs of the average American – an individual who is typically overweight and has a variety of nutrition-related health issues? 

Dietary Guidelines should be simple, realistic, and doable. They should not be one-size fits all. The guidelines should be flexible and have separate recommendations for the 25 percent of Americans who are currently healthy consuming a low fat diet, and a carbohydrate-limiting recommendation for the majority of Americans who are at risk for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes.  The guidance to avoid animal products and limit fat intake is clearly not realistic and not working for this large segment of Americans. 

Progress can only occur if we are willing to disrupt the status quo and recognize the insights of newer, better, and credible science.   Well-designed NIH funded studies were excluded from consideration by the committee developing the Dietary Guidelines – and excluded for what reason?  Perhaps, it is because these new findings didn’t align with the predetermined conclusions and dogma of decades past.  

By slowing down the guideline process and directing federal agencies to really examine the rational and scientific underpinnings of the guidelines, leaders in Congress are creating an opportunity to acknowledge the failed status quo, reassess the issues within the Guidelines, and address the reality of this public health crisis.   

Our hope is that a new nutritional consensus will prevail; one that recognizes and accepts current science and understands the impact of diet on public health.  Taking this extra time for true and diverse scientific scrutiny will buy Americans a healthier way to eat and live, and in the process save millions of lives.

Volek, Ph.D., R.D., is a full professor in the Department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University. He has published 270 articles examining health and performance effects of low-carbohydrate diets and other dietary supplements including seminal work on creatine, carnitine and whey protein. Phinney, Ph.D., MD, has studied diet, exercise, fatty acids and inflammation for the past 35 years. Along with academic positions at the Universities of Vermont, Minnesota and California at Davis he has held leadership positions at Monsanto, Galileo Laboratories, and Efficas. 



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