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Congress, stop government from dishing out bad dietary advice


Americans’ lack of physical fitness is affecting everything from our military, who are struggling to find enough recruits who are fit to serve, to rising costs in treating diabetes. As a personal trainer and wellness consultant, I believe exercise is critical for a healthy lifestyle. Yet, despite how much time and effort people invest trying to get in shape, they rarely meet their goals.

The astonishing reason for this is that following conventional wisdom about nutrition — generally considered 45 to 60 min of aerobic exercise every day combined with a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet — is guaranteed to fail because this approach is not based on good science. Aerobic exercise and low-fats diets have been tested in multiple clinical trials on tens of thousands of Americans, but neither method has ever successfully been shown to be effective for helping people meaningfully lose weight.

{mosads}One 2009 study, for instance, showed that exercise alone produces “only about half of the predicted weight loss.” But if the latest evidence shows that the conventional wisdom fails to prevent or reverse obesity, why does this approach remain dominant in medical and nutrition circles? Further, what can be done to correct it?   

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), issued jointly every five years by the Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, serve as the prevailing source of information for doctors, institutions and individuals looking for expert advice on eating and exercise. But since the introduction of the DGA some 35 years ago, Americans have seen sharp increases in rates of nutrition-related diseases such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, and it appears things are only getting worse.   

For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that more than 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese with higher than average numbers for older citizens, Hispanics and African-Americans. Historical statistics from the CDC show that in 1958, less than 1 percent of the population had Type 2 diabetes. But the disease currently plagues the U.S., with more than 30 million people affected, nearly 10 percent of all Americans.

If current trends continue, greater numbers of Americans will live less healthy and less productive lives, and our medical costs will continue to skyrocket.   

From the beginning, the DGA have reinforced a notion that fats in our diet were the root cause of these diseases.  In the original 1977 recommendations, we were encouraged to decrease foods “high in total fat and animal fat” as well as eggs and butter fat, and increase consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

These strategies have clearly not worked. In my experience, when it comes to better health, weight management and good cardiovascular outcomes, a far superior approach has always been a diet low in carbohydrates like sugar, high in healthy fats, and moderate in protein combined with weight training and high intensity interval training. Research continues on this approach, and in fact a new database of research on the low carb approach shows how a total of 6,786 people who have participated in 76 studies have had success.

I’ve also spoken with leading doctors, scientists, and researchers on the frontlines of combating obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other nutrition-related conditions. Time and again, I’ve heard stories of people being cured of type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases simply by doing the very opposite of what the DGA tell them.

The fact remains that, as a nation, we must change the DGA. They do not reflect the best and most current science, they do not lead to healthy outcomes, and it would be unethical to allow them simply to perpetuate the status quo.

Thankfully, Congress has begun to ask some hard questions.  

In 2015, the House held a hearing that examined the DGA and followed up by mandating that the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine review the process that creates them. This report — essentially the first-ever outside peer review of our guidelines — was published just a few months ago. It found that the DGA indeed lack “scientific rigor” and that in order to be “trustworthy … the process needs to be redesigned.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue included this as a principle for the 2018 Farm Bill:

“Assure the scientific integrity of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans process through greater transparency and reliance on the most robust body of scientific evidence.”

Our political leaders have an opportunity to correct this failed nutritional advice, by acting on the National Academies’ report to ensure that we have guidelines we can trust. We need guidelines that promote the scientifically sound approach to losing weight, getting healthy, and reversing the devastating health trends in our country.

Ben Greenfield is the founder and owner of Kion, a company that develops fitness and nutrition services and solutions to help people reach their physical and mental performance goals.

Tags Sonny Perdue

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