2010 Dietary Guidelines: Fat Made Us Fat

After enjoying myself while on vacation in Chicago, I decided to do penance by reading more of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.  (Our house, meanwhile, imposed its own penance by developing a plumbing problem that caused the toilets to back up into the downstairs bathtub.  I’m not sure which was more nauseating:  scooping sewage from the tub, or reading the Dietary Guidelines.)

The 86-page section I just finished is titled “Energy Balance,” but could’ve been titled “Let’s Put Our Heads Together and Save The Reputation of The Carbohydrate” or perhaps “Nobody Who Blames Carbohydrates Gets Out of Here Alive.”

In a nutshell, this is what the committee concluded:

  • We’re fat because we consume too many calories and don’t move around enough, period, end of story, so would everyone please shut up about macronutrient balances and just go on a low-calorie diet for Pete’s sake, and then maybe go jogging.
  • We consume too many calories because we eat too much fat … uh, and sugar too.
  • We eat too much fat (uh, and sugar too) because there are too many fast-food establishments and not enough grocery stores and produce markets.

For the two or three people living in civilized society who are unfamiliar with the theory that consuming more calories than you burn will make you fat, the committee generously took the phrase “consuming more calories than you burn will make you fat” and translated it into impressive-sounding Engfish:

Energy balance refers to the balance between calories consumed through eating and drinking and those calories expended through physical activity and metabolic processes. Energy consumed must equal energy expended for a person to remain at the same body weight. Overweight and obesity will result from excess calorie intake and/or inadequate physical activity. Weight loss will occur when a calorie deficit exists, which can be achieved by eating less, being more physically active, or a combination of the two.

So there you have it:  the key to losing weight is to base your diet on a theory that has less than a 2% success rate.  But hey, if you’re one of the 98% who tried to lose weight and failed, don’t feel bad.  It’s not your fault, really.  As the committee explains:

Examining shifts in the food environment over the past 40 years is helpful in understanding why Americans have difficulty meeting the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

As someone with working tastebuds, I always assumed most people had difficulty meeting the U.S. Dietary Guidelines because they don’t like bland, low-fat, low-salt, tasteless grain-based foods.  Turns out I just didn’t have the intellectual capacity to fully grasp the many complexities involved.  You can read about those complexities in the official report if you want to give yourself a serious headache, but just to give you an idea, I copied the helpful graphic provided in the report:


Wow … and to think some people still believe in the concept of free will.  Clearly, this amazingly complex set of environmental influences can only be solved by an equally complex set of government initiatives.  The committee offers just a hint of things to come.  (Those “things,” since this is a government committee, would be regulations.)

In order to reduce the obesity epidemic, actions must be taken to improve the food environment. Policy (local, state, and national) and private-sector efforts must be made to increase the availability of nutrient-dense foods for all Americans, especially for low-income Americans, through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets, and greater financial incentives to purchase and prepare healthy foods. The restaurant and food industries are encouraged to offer foods in appropriate portion sizes that are low in calories, added sugars, and solid fat. Local zoning policies should be considered to reduce fast food restaurant placement near schools.

Yup, we need those regulations and financial incentives because poor people don’t have enough access to grocery stores and have too much access to fast food.  Here’s how the committee figured it out:

The presence of supermarkets in local neighborhoods and other sources of vegetables and fruits are associated with lower body mass index, especially for low-income Americans, while lack of supermarkets and long distances to supermarkets are associated with higher body mass index. Finally, limited but consistent evidence suggests that increased geographic density of fast food restaurants and convenience stores is also related to increased body mass index.

An economist would say that a lack of supermarkets is associated with a lack of community support for supermarkets, while a high concentration of fast-food restaurants is associated with strong community support for fast food.  But apparently the committee has figured out that supermarkets are avoiding low-income areas because they just don’t want the extra business.  So now we need to bribe them … or the people in the community … or … well, dangit, I don’t know, but SOMEBODY needs to be bribed, or that graphic explaining all the complexities will look exactly the same when the 2015 committee meets.

My graphic of the problem would look something like this:

The committee, empanelled by a government that spends billions of dollars subsidizing grains (and millions more subsidizing research conducted by anti-fat hysterics), heartily disagrees.  Okay, it’s impossible to express anything “heartily” in Engfish, but you get the idea.  They assure us that fat is a major culprit behind the rise in obesity.

To make the document impressively large, they included long sections discussing food production figures, adolescent screen time, who eats breakfast and who doesn’t, maternal weight during pregnancy, calorie counts of various beverages, caloric expenditure for various forms of exercise, methodologies for gathering data on all the above, etc.  I’ll skip those because they’re more boring than C-SPAN and don’t contain anything useful. 

The real story for me was how they managed to blame fat for making us fatter while exonerating carbohydrates.  To accomplish this, all they had to do was cherry-pick, ignore, or explain away the actual evidence.  Here’s a sample from the section on childhood obesity:

The relationship of dietary fat to adiposity in children has been studied more extensively than for other macronutrients, primarily because of its high energy density and palatability, both qualities likely to promote passive overconsumption of energy if not regulated (Parsons, 1999). In addition, studies suggest that fat intake induces less potent satiety signals and less compensation with respect to subsequent energy intake, compared with dietary protein or carbohydrate (Doucet, 1997; Bray, 2004), and that fat oxidation is not as highly regulated as carbohydrate utilization.

Okay, I have to interrupt the committee at this point.  Are they actually telling us that fat doesn’t provide satiety, but carbohydrates do?!  Does anyone makes jokes about how an hour after eating at a steak house, you’re hungry again?  Sometimes when I have sausage and eggs for breakfast, I forget to eat lunch.  That never, ever happened when I ate Grape-Nuts.  Even some of the most strident anti-Atkins hysterics admit people lose weight, but then explain that it’s only because all that fat is satisfying, so people eat less.  They call it a “low-calorie diet in disguise” — usually just before warning that you’ll die of a heart attack.

But back to the committee:

In metabolic studies of children, meal induced thermogenesis increased more after a high-carbohydrate meal than after a high-fat meal; and although fat oxidation increased after the high fat meal, postprandial fat storage was greater after the high fat meal compared with the high carbohydrate meal (Maffeis, 2001).

Ah, I see.  So it’s the fat that’s making our youngsters fat, while carbohydrates keep them lean.  I guess if somebody created a list of what kids actually eat, fatty foods would be at the top. 

Oh, wait … somebody did create that list.  In fact, the committee created the list.  Here, as published in their own report, are the top 10 sources of calories for males between the ages of two and 18:

1. Pizza
2. Grain-based desserts
3. Soda/energy/sports drinks
4. Chicken and chicken mixed dishes
5. Yeast breads
6. Reduced fat milk
7. Dairy desserts
8. Pasta and pasta dishes
9. Ready-to-eat cereals
10. Burgers

Here’s the same list for females between two and 18:

1. Grain-based desserts
2. Yeast breads
3. Pasta and pasta dishes
4. Pizza
5. Chicken and chicken mixed dishes
6. Soda/energy/sports drinks
7. Reduced fat milk
8. Potato/corn/other chips
9. Dairy desserts
10. Mexican mixed dishes.

Call me crazy, but that looks like a list dominated by carbohydrate-rich foods.  I wonder why the heck all that highly regulated carbohydrate utilization isn’t producing satiety and massive thermogenesis in our kids and keeping them thin.  By the way, whole milk, beef and cheese are pretty far down on the list for both genders.  Pork products were at 17 for both genders, and eggs didn’t make the top 25 in either group.

In another major section on Fat and Cholesterol (which I’ll get to in another post), the committee lists our average fat intake over the decades.  Check out these figures:

Total fat grams per day – 84.6
Fat percent of total calories – 40

Total fat grams per day – 71.4
Fat percent of total calories – 32.8

Total fat grams per day – 81.9
Fat percent of total calories – 33.6

Anyone care to read those figures and then explain to me how it’s too much fat that sparked a rise in obesity?  Were we fatter in 1977, when we ate more of the stuff?  Amazing … these people can see the evidence right in front of their academic faces, then draw conclusions that have nothing to do with it. 

Here’s an another example of explaining away results they don’t like:

One longitudinal study found no association between dietary energy density and adiposity among children who were followed annually from age 2 to 18 years (Alexy, 2005). Participants in this cohort were classified by dietary pattern into clusters based on percent energy from fat, with dietary energy density lowest at 3.7 (0.4) in the low fat cluster; 4.0 (0.4) in the medium fat intake; and highest at 4.1 (0.4) in the high fat cluster. Mean BMI during the study period differed significantly, with the highest BMI in the low fat, low dietary energy density cluster, a result the investigators suggest may have reflected under-reporting of energy intake among overweight participants, difficulty in detecting minor over-consumption of energy, and lack of power due to small sample size.

Get that?  In this study, kids who ate the diet lowest in fat had the highest BMI … but by gosh, we can dismiss this one because the investigators suggested the fat kids (and only the fat kids) didn’t report their intake accurately.  How convenient.  I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that if the low-fat group had the lowest BMI, the investigators wouldn’t have felt any need to pooh-pooh their own results.

The examples of explaining away or completely ignoring the evidence get even worse.  If you can stay awake long enough, read this paragraph carefully:

Three of the four RCTs found no association between percent energy from dietary fat and adiposity. The STRIP clinical trial, which tested the effects of a fat-modified diet from 7 months of age (Hakanen, 2006), reported less obesity among intervention girls compared with control girls at age 10 years, but no differences for boys; while at age 14 years, Niinikoski et al. (2007) found no difference in obesity between treatment groups, for either males or females. Caballero et al. (2003) reported no change in percent body fat in a 3-year school-based nutrition and physical activity intervention among 1,704 Native American children, who were age 7 years at baseline. Results showed that percent body fat and BMI did not differ by treatment group at study end. However, children in the intervention group reported lower total energy intake (1,892 vs. 2,157 kcal/d) and percent energy from total fat (31.1% vs. 33.6%) compared with the control group, and percent energy from fat was lower in the intervention school lunches compared to the control schools (28.2% vs. 32.0%).

So in several trials, kids who were put on a low-fat diet didn’t end up any leaner than the kids in the control groups.  And in the last study cited, the kids on a low-fat diet consumed less fat and fewer calories but STILL didn’t end up any leaner.  Now, if you have a functioning brain, you’d probably look at that as evidence that low-fat diets aren’t the key to making kids leaner.  But unfortunately, having a functioning brain would also disqualify you from serving on a government nutrition committee — as evidenced by their conclusion:

In summary, the combination of evidence from methodologically strong studies in the NEL and ADA reviews supports a conclusion that dietary fat and adiposity in children are positively associated.

Yes, you read that correctly.  No, it doesn’t make any sense.  I’m starting to wonder if they made the document long and boring in hopes that no one would bother to analyze it.

Since this committee was no doubt given the task of justifying the Food Pyramid, they did their best to dissuade people from attempting to lose weight by giving up grains and other subsidized carbohydrates:

There is strong and consistent evidence that when calorie intake is controlled, macronutrient proportion of the diet is not related to losing weight. A moderate body of evidence provides no data to suggest that any one macronutrient is more effective than any other for avoiding weight regain in weight reduced persons. A moderate body of evidence demonstrates that diets with less than 45 percent of calories as carbohydrates are not more successful for long-term weight loss (12 months). There is also some evidence that they may be less safe.

Hmmm, I wonder which evidence convinced them low-carbohydrate diets may be less safe?  It certainly wasn’t the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that concluded women who ate a high-fat diet showed less progression of heart disease than women who ate a high-carb diet.  Or the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that concluded that women who followed the Atkins diet lost the most weight and had the best metabolic markers.  Or the study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found zero association between saturated fat and heart disease or stroke.  Or about a dozen more I could name.

Well, let’s just set aside the safety issue and look at their evidence on weight loss:

Twenty studies found no difference in weight loss between diets differing in macronutrient proportion. (Arvidsson, 2004; Avenell, 2004; Benassi-Evans, 2009; Capel, 2008; de Luis, 2009; Frisch, 2009; Gordon, 2008; Jenkins, 2009; Johnston, 2006; Leidy, 2007; Lim, 2009; Lopez-Fontana, 2009; McLaughlin, 2006; Miller, 2009; Noakes, 2006; Sacks, 2009; Tay, 2008; Viguerie, 2005; Wal, 2007; White, 2007).

Thirteen studies found that lower carbohydrate diets reduced weight significantly more than low-fat or higher-carbohydrate diets (Buscemi, 2009; Halyburton, 2007; Hession, 2009; Johnstone, 2008; Keogh, 2008; Krieger, 2006; Mahon, 2007; McAuley, 2005; Nickols-Richardson, 2005; Nordmann, 2006; Rankin, 2007; Shai, 2008; Volek, 2009).

Isn’t that interesting?  First they tell us it’s fat making us fat.  Then they tell us 20 studies showed the macronutrient content makes no difference in weight loss.  And finally they tell us 13 studies showed people lost more weight on low-carbohydrate diets. Notice they didn’t cite any studies showing that low-fat diets — the type they recommend — produce more weight loss.

Interestingly, in a document full of research citations, I didn’t find a single reference to the Stanford study conducted by Dr. Chris Gardner — a vegetarian who admitted he was a bit dismayed when his own results showed that people on the Atkins diet lost the most weight and had the biggest improvements in health markers.  Somehow, a committee that brags about its efforts to review all the relevant evidence managed to skip that one.

If 20 studies showed no difference, while 13 other studies showed greater weight loss for people restricting carbohydrates, then the obvious conclusion is that low-carb diets are more effective for quite a few people.  (Heck, let’s make it 14.  I’ll throw in the Stanford study, even if they didn’t.)  But you can read the report forwards, backwards, and sideways, and you’ll never find that possibility even mentioned.

And if you were to dig into the 20 studies that showed no difference, I promise you’d find many of them used a loosey-goosey definition of “low carbohydrate.”  The committee, for example, defines it as less than 45% of calories.  That’s a common trick employed by researchers who set out to prove low-carb diets don’t work. (See this post for an example.) 

Anyone who reads the Atkins books, the Protein Power books, or any other book on low-carb diets knows you’re supposed to kick-start the fat-burning process by reducing your carbohydrate intake to 20-40 grams per day for a couple of weeks, then gradually raise it to perhaps 60-100 grams per day, depending on your reaction to carbohydrates.  At 1800 calories per day, a diet that’s 40% carbohydrates would work out to 180 grams.  Even 30% percent carbohydrates would work out to 135 grams. 

Most of the people I know who lost weight by restricting carbohydrates limited their carb intake to somewhere between 5% and 20% of total calories.  So the “low carb” diet in many of these studies wasn’t even close to what Dr. Atkins or Drs. Eades and Eades advised … it’s just lower in carbs than what the federal government recommends.

Just to make sure we didn’t miss the point, the committee tossed in this paragraph near the end:

The macronutrient distribution of a person’s diet is not the driving force behind the obesity, rather it is the overly large amount of total calories eaten coupled with very low physical activity. There is no optimal proportion of dietary fat, carbohydrate, and protein to maintain a healthy body weight, to lose weight, or to avoid weight regain after weight loss. It is the total amount of calories eaten that is essential. While weight can be reduced with diets where the macronutrient proportions vary widely, the crucial issue is not the macronutrient proportion but rather the compliance with a reduced-calorie intake.

We’re just plain eating too much, you see.  As Gary Taubes noted in Good Calories, Bad Calories, saying fat people are fat because they eat too much is about as illuminating as saying alcoholics are alcoholics because they drink too much.  It doesn’t begin to explain why.  It doesn’t even ask the question.

We eat too much because we’re too hungry.  And we’re too hungry because the federal government decided to tell us how to eat and helped turn us into a nation of carbohydrate addicts.  Isn’t it comforting to know they’re coming to save the day?


47 thoughts on “2010 Dietary Guidelines: Fat Made Us Fat

  1. hans keer

    Thank you for spitting through those dietary guidelines. Your summary is strong, funny and sad making at the same time. I wonder how these hypocritical committee members do feel. They deceive and get paid for it. I think we should, worldwide, bring this under the attention of governments and politicians. The shore needs to turn the ship. I wrote this small post on the subject: http://bit.ly/9Ld7jC VBR Hans

    The sad part is, they may even believe their own nonsense. Once researchers fall in love with a theory, they have an amazing ability to rationalize away contrary evidence.

  2. Jo

    Great post

    Let’s hope that this document will one day be used as evidence of the incompetence of these people. Our Government is going to ask private companies to pay for providing dietary advice! I guess they think it can’t be that difficult to tell people to eat less and move more. Simple really (sarcasm). I am hopeful another alcoholism analogy applies here: You have to hit bottom before you can quit. Let’s hope the low fat bottom is not far off. Certainly seems like it.

    Millions of Americans are leaving the bar, even as the government offers subsidized cocktails. I don’t know if they’ll ever change their policies, but we’re free to ignore them … for now.

  3. Scott Moore

    What an amazing job of analyzing the data and presenting coherent results! No, I’m not talking about the committee, I’m talking about you! I can’t believe that you have read as much of that garbage as you have and that your head hasn’t exploded. I bet you were grumpy as could be while reading that. I would have been calling my wife over the whole time: “Hey, honey, listen to this garbage…. Can you believe what they wrote this time?… Does any of them even have a brain?” I would have gotten a ton of “yes, dears”, for sure.

    Anyway, thanks for doing such a nice job on this report. It’s a pleasure reading your blog.

    The worst part is when I start to daydream and have to go back and read a section again. That’s how boring it is.

  4. Bruce

    I love the Engfish. I reminds me of ME in the 7th grade writing a 3 page book report.

    Where do kids get the money to buy from the fast food restaurants by their schools? I can understand high school, but by then the horse has left the barn. Do grade school kids walk around with a couple of bucks on them now?

    Now that you mention it, I’ve never seen grade-school kids buying lunch at McDonald’s without a parent. Maybe it happens, but it has to be rare — and yes, someone would have to give them the money first.

  5. Sean

    Thanks for taking the hit for all of us and actually reading and dissecting this homicidal pile of crap. My hypothesis is that future generations will view this diet madness in the same incredulous way we now look at curing disease with bloodletting, burning witches and wearing giant hats with feathers in them.

    I think that’s exactly right. We tend to see ourselves as sophisticated and thus immune from quackery, but sadly that’s not the case. The low-fat diet will (I hope) be a laughing matter 50 years from now.

  6. Amy Dungan

    I still say they were all drunk when they wrote the guidelines. 🙂 Who can look at the science and end up with these conclusions with having some kind of impaired thinking?

    Next time, somebody should get them drunk to the point that they say, “@#$% the federal grants — let’s just tell the truth!”

  7. Jenny

    Thanks for doing the hard reading so we don’t have to! And we all know fat is addicting – if I eat one stick of butter, I have to eat two.

    That’s why you see kids sneaking butter into schools.

  8. labrat

    Thank you Tom – I am so enjoying this series of posts. Reminds me of the time I tried to slog through the NCEP guidelines about 5 years ago. I think I learned my lesson then. I think they make navigating these reports so impossible so that no one has the patience to try to unravel the absurdity of their nonsense. They fill it with so much gobble-de-goop hogwash. My favorite from that NCEP report was when I found them claiming that the lower is better LDL recommendation is safe because infants have LDL’s as low as 40 – I kid you not.

    It’s the governmnet of version of “If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your @#$$%##.”

  9. Steve Parker, M.D.

    Impressive research, Tom.

    Have trends in technology over the last 25 years continued to reduce the energy expenditure needed to get through our days? Alternatively, are we exercising less? Either explanation would tend lead to weight gain if caloric intake remained the same.

    Researchers recently studied populations in Europe and North America, examining trends in physical activity energy expenditure over time, since the 1980s. Energy expenditure was evaluated with a highly accurate method called “doubly labelled water.” They found that physical activity energy expenditure actually increased over time, although not by much. The investigators conclude that the ballooning waistlines in the study populations are likely to reflect excessive intake of calories.

    I doubt they considered the possibility that a high-carb/high-insulin milieu contributed to weight gain.

    [Ooh! I got to use “milieu”! Hadn’t used that since college days.]


    Reference: Westerterp, K.R., and Speakman, J.R. Physical activity energy expenditure has not declined since the 1980s and matches energy expenditures of wild mammals. International Journal of Obesity, 32 (2008): 1256-1263. Published online May 27, 2008. doi: 10.1038/ijo2008.74

    According to the committee’s figures — which I’ve seen elsewhere — we consume 400-600 more daily calories on average. They of course blame that on the complex environmental influences. I blame it on carbohydrate addiction.

  10. Katie

    Now we’re apparently trying to export our idiocy. Have you seen this: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/07/09/south.africa.diet.heart/index.html?hpt=Sbin

    I love how they blame the “high fat” organ meats, but yet admit that people are eating lots of fried foods (breaded), drinking sugar-laden sodas, and eating everything with bread.

    If you eat nearly 100% carbs, but you’re starving, you’re not going to be fat. Keep eating lots of carbs and add lots of fat + meat, and you pretty much get the SAD. No wonder they’re getting fat…

    Like I’ve said before, it reminds me of the joke about the Irishman who eats a potato and drinks several pints of Guinness … when he wakes up the next day with a hangover, he says, “Just my luck! I got a rotten potato!”

  11. Shelley

    Hi Tom, I thought you might like to take a look at this clip from NZ’s version of 60 Minutes.
    It is about turning around the health and lives of people in one of our most impoverished towns, involving a number of things including encouraging a low-carb diet (not that it is ever referred to as that!). The nutritionist makes things more difficult than they need to be by talking about genetically specific diets, but at the end of the day by increasing fat and decreasing carbs, incredible results are being achieved. And even the spokesman from the NZ Diabetes Association is impressed, so in a tiny part of the world at least, the message is getting through.

    I couldn’t get the clip to play in either browser — regional licensing, perhaps — but that’s good news. Little bits of sanity are sprouting all over.

  12. Lynda

    As usual Tom, I love your work!! I was just going to leave a message about our TV3 doco 60 Minutes but I see the above poster has beaten me to it! Great post as usual from you.

    Thank you, Lynda.

  13. Lynda

    Hi again Tom – here is a story about the 60 minutes documentary which explains what it was all about. I also can’t get the video to who and I’m in NZ so not sure what the problem in there. Anyway, interesting to see stories like this making their way to mainstream viewing.


    Excellent. Sounds very much like “My Big Fat Diet,” in which Native tribes in Canada returned to their ancestral diets (full of meat, fat, etc.) and experienced great improvements in health. Very good documentary if you can get ahold of a copy.

  14. Richard Tamesis, M.D.

    Excellent analysis of a perfect example of more government waste of taxpayer money giving us more bad health advice!

    Thank you, Dr. Tamesis. And just think … after they tax us to pay for all those nutrition programs, they can tax us again to pay for the health problems that result.

  15. Todd

    I saw “My Big, Fat Diet” and thought it was a really good production. One thing that always bothers me is the disclaimers on the website:

    Anyone taking medication for diabetes or high blood pressure should consult their doctor before starting a low-carb diet.

    That’s probably the last person you should be consulting.

    I agree, but it’s to protect themselves legally. We had a similar disclaimer at the end of Fat Head … although I made a bit of a joke of it.

  16. Josiah

    Its a shame scientific evidence and innumerable real world examples aren’t enough to get the government stooges to change their tune. I cant believe they want to tax food and drink that they subsidize for use as a deterrent which has been proven not to work.

    I didn’t have the chops to wade through the guidelines, I am glad you did. Thanks a million.

    This way, they get to tax us twice. That’s music to the ears of people in government.

  17. mezzo

    “Let’s hope the low fat bottom is not far off.”

    In fact, and without wishing to brag – ever since I went low carb, my bottom has gone nearer and nearer to being low-fat….

  18. shaf

    Have you seen this yet, Tom?

    Now they just have to figure out WHY they overeat! LOL
    Still, it’s nice to see that one piece of the puzzle has been put in place.

    I’m glad to see someone concluding that inactivity is the result of fat accumulation and not the other way around. Who wants to run around when your body is storing your energy supply as fat? And when I became a fat kid, I played outdoors less because it was embarrassing to be fat and slow.

  19. Sue

    Tom, I can’t take it anymore – it just depresses me to read how stupid these so called experts are!!

    That’s why you have to laugh at them to keep your spirits up.

  20. Jimmy Moore

    Tom, you don’t even know the half of it. I sat in that meeting at the USDA on Thursday and the Director of Nutrition and BLAH BLAH BLAH was boasting about how the process of coming up with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines was highly vetted by distinguished scientific professionals in the field of health and nutrition and that nobody could possibly disagree with the conclusions of such a highly intelligent group of experts. Well, that’s exactly what happened with about 20% of us (myself included) who challenged them to take a closer look at the results of their recommendations and act accordingly. I’m not holding my breath that they are going to change anything this time around, but perhaps hearing so much feedback will at least give them pause. I’ll be blogging my experience when I return home from DC, but this has been quite the trip to say the least.

    Looking forward to that blog post, Jimmy. It would be nice if vigorous dissent made them think twice, but I remember talking to Dr. Kilmer McCulley about the how the National Cholesterol Education Campaign’s recommendations were created … there was vigorous dissent by him and many others, but the NCEP ignored them and then wrote a document claiming all the qualified scientists agreed. It was manufactured consensus.

  21. Ailu

    Thanks Tom soo much for this report, it took a lot of effort to bring it to us. What lunacy! But it sure makes great material for you! LOL

    Btw, been crazy busy taking care of my elderly Momma and haven’t had time to post as I like. But rest assured I never pass up reading my favorite blog. 🙂

    I appreciate that, and best wishes dealing with your mom.

  22. Lori

    Tom, you are really doing a public service reading, interpreting and distilling these government publications. I proofread financial statements and business valuations, so I have an idea.

    Nevertheless, I think the demise of big, feathered hats is regrettable.

    I could go for big, feathered hats. As a balding man, I’d be happy just to return the styles of the 1940s, when nearly all men wore hats.

  23. Kate

    Thanks for taking the time to read that snorefest and post. Here’s a diet that would fit in great with their recommendation, since macronutrient content doesn’t matter. The Romy and Michelle High School Reunion diet. One of them says, “Did I tell you about this fat free diet I’ve been on? For the past two days I’ve had nothing to eat except candy corn and gummy bears.” The other one replies, “Oh, I wish I had your will power!”

    Their version of the Snackwell’s diet, apparently.

  24. Sandy

    Hear Hear, why can’t they admit the obvious!!! Thank you for your voice!!

    They’d have to admit the government has been pushing the wrong diet for 40 years and is still subsidizing the wrong foods.

  25. TonyNZ

    “with the highest BMI in the low fat, low dietary energy density cluster, a result the investigators suggest may have reflected under-reporting of energy intake among overweight participants”

    I wept.

    “methodologically strong studies”

    Was this translated into long-form engfish in the study?

    @ Carol Bardelli – “I’m lovin’ it!”

    I see those McDonalds marketing folk got to you!

    Everything was Engfish in the report.

  26. TonyNZ

    “Everything was Engfish in the report.”

    I was meaning did they define the exclusion criteria for methodologically weak studies.

    All Blacks = our national rugby team, currently world #1. Rugby is our nations most popular sport.

    Therefore people who captain the All Blacks are pretty much lifetime celebrities.

    There’s a 15 page document on methodology. In nutshell, they claim to have conducted searches far and wide for the literature and then selected the methodologically strong studies. A sample:

    National Service Volunteers, a cadre of highly qualified nutrition and health professionals, were trained and served as evidence abstractors to support the systematic review process. They: 1) classified the study by design type, 2) extracted key evidence from each individual study into a comprehensive, templated evidence worksheet (made available to committee members and posted on the NEL), and 3) applied predefined criteria from a Research Design and Implementation Checklists for each primary research study and review study to critically appraise the methodological quality of the study. Evidence abstractors received training on how to apply the criteria to studies differing in design.

    Each study received a quality rating of positive, neutral, or negative, based upon a predefined scoring system (these quality grades are available for each article in the NEL). In the chapter text, for clarity these ratings are described as studies which are methodologically strong (positive), methodologically neutral (neutral), and methodologically weak (negative). The appraisal of study quality is a critical component of the systematic review methodology because in a highly transparent manner, it indicates the Committee’s judgment regarding the relevance (external validity/generalizability) and validity of each study’s results. This rating, referred to as the “quality rating” indicates the extent to which the design and conduct of a study is shown to be protected from systematic bias, nonsystematic bias, and inferential error (Lohr, 2004). Studies were not excluded on the basis of quality rating. However, the quality rating was taken into consideration by the DGAC as they reviewed the literature and formed conclusions.

  27. Bushrat

    This bit makes me think they are living in fantasy land:

    “The relationship of dietary fat to adiposity in children has been studied more extensively than for other macronutrients, primarily because of its high energy density and palatability, both qualities likely to promote passive overconsumption of energy if not regulated (Parsons, 1999). In addition, studies suggest that fat intake induces less potent satiety signals and less compensation with respect to subsequent energy intake, compared with dietary protein or carbohydrate (Doucet, 1997; Bray, 2004), and that fat oxidation is not as highly regulated as carbohydrate utilization.”

    If I read it right (my Engfish comprehension is out of practice) they say that you can eat all the fat you want but you won’t feel full and its easy to gorge yourself on fat. I wonder if they really think Mr and Mrs Fatty sit in front of the television spooning lard into their mouths.

    Apparently, they somehow looked at the figures showing we consume less fat than 30-40 years ago and came to exactly that conclusion.

  28. Bushrat

    Also, you refer to a lot of studies. You should have a page (continually updated) where you provide the references for the papers you refer to. It would be a great resource for anyone interested in reading them.

    It’s a bit involved, but a good idea. I’ll think on that one.

  29. musajen

    Back in college (crap, more than 10 years now) one of my summer job experiences was a camp in Michigan that worked with inner city kids from Detroit. As part of our pre-camper training, we were dividied into teams of six and dropped in the Eastern Market in Detroit with a dollar in each of our pockets.

    Apparently the Eastern Market has undergone revitalization since then but at the time it was dilapitated and teeming with the poor and homeless. It was supposed to be an immersion experience into the world most of our campers were living in day to day and we were tasked to feed ourselves with the four quarters we were each allocated.

    After pooling our resources, we had $6 to feed six people and we ended up with a loaf of bread, a package of bologne, a bunch of banana’s and, (luxury items) a 2 litre of soda and an unnecessarily large bag of cups. Clearly not ideal from a low-carb perspective, but there was produce.

    The Eastern Market is maybe unique to other low income areas – I have no idea if such a thing was or is available in any other low-income areas of major cities (rural girl) but it was an interesting exercise in choices. And our choices weren’t as limited as I would have expected.

    It would be an interesting experiment to see if it’s possible to live on a controlled carb diet on a very low income. Lots of eggs, I would imagine.

  30. Dan

    Scooping sewage or reading the guidelines? That’s a hard choice. 🙂

    Thanks for revealing the obfuscation of real science with gobbletygook. Did these folks get paid by the pound?

    They weren’t paid, at least not directly. I’d be curious to see what kind of grants they receive for future research, however.

  31. Dan

    One more thing…
    If they’d take these “goverment iniatives” (including the guidlines) and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine, we’d all be better off.

  32. Wanda

    I just love the total 180 degree turn… carb controlled diets show better results for weight loss, so lets eat MORE carbs! stupid government…

    On a mainly unrelated note, at least in the good ol’ US of A you can get butter with your english muffin, something I occasionally indulge in at breakfast. Up here in Canada, when you ask for butter, they reply “sure,” and hand you a couple of containers of Becel Margarine. Yup, can’t even get real butter at McD’s here!

    I’ve asked for butter in a few restaurants here, only to be told they don’t have any. Even a steakhouse here doesn’t have butter. How’s that for strange: we’ll serve you a big, fatty, juicy steak, but not butter … ?

  33. TonyNZ

    So, as I understand it:

    Me: So how did you select methodologically strong studies?

    Them: Well, we trained some people to do it for us.

    Me: So how did you train them?

    Them: Well, we showed them how to use a checklist that tallied up whether they were good or not.

    Me: So what was on the checklist?

    Them: Oh, that’s not important, what’s important is that it was done by qualified nutritionists.

    Me: And the panel is made up of…?

    Them: Qualified nutritionists.

    Me: I see, and the the people doing the research are…?

    Them: Qualified nutritionists.

    Me: And what kind of study is this?

    Them: Independent.

    Me: I see… have you picked up a dictionary lately?

    Also: “systematic bias, nonsystematic bias, and inferential error”

    So, lemme guess. Any high fat intake among healthy individuals was systematic bias in determining fat intake. Any unhealthy people on high carb were non-systematically biased in that they were the unhealthiest carb eaters, thus involved in clinical trials because of this. Any study that concluded saturated fat did not elevate heart disease rates obviously made an inferential error.

    @ Wanda, what really steams me up is if I ask for some butter and they give me margarine…as though they are somehow equivalent. Sorry, no.

    I think you’ve pretty much nailed it. Considering how abysmally weak the evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease is, the fact that they’re calling for an even further reduction of it can only be selection bias.

  34. Sarah

    Does anyone really believe the US Department of Agriculture is going to promote anything that leads to a reduction in grain consumption?

    Not gonna happen, period.

    Listening to diet advice handed down by the USDA makes as much sense as taking medical advice from a Pfizer sales rep.

  35. Chris

    Appreciate your plowing through the document. Have been following Jimmy Moore’s road trip to testify. Listened to some of the recorded testimony and plowed through some of the transcripts of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee leading up to the preliminary report. Tedious. Committee members had their minds made up before hearing any testimony. They were certain that we needed less fat and more exercise. If only they could convice us and overcome the toxic fast food environment.

    Interesting to read the Strategic Vision of the USDA:

    “USDA has created a strategic plan to implement its vision. The framework of this plan depends on these key activities: expanding markets for agricultural products and support international economic development, further developing alternative markets for agricultural products and activities, providing financing needed to help expand job opportunities and improve housing, utilities and infrastructure in rural America, enhancing food safety by taking steps to reduce the prevalence of foodborne hazards from farm to table, improving nutrition and health by providing food assistance and nutrition education and promotion, and managing and protecting America’s public and private lands working cooperatively with other levels of government and the private sector.” (USDA Website http://www.usda.org

    If processed foods–specifically the HFCS in most of them–are fueling obesity epidemic, then it would be bad expanding markets to tell countries that import these foods the truth. As Dr. Lustig pointed out to Jimmy, “The fox is guarding the henhouse.” The USDA’s true role–promoting commodities–means it has to recuse itself from offering nutritional guidelines.

    Like that will ever happen.

    So we simply have to make our conversation more frequent and a lot louder.

    Thanks, Tom, for using math.

    Unfortunately, as Thomas Sowell points out in his books, the fox guarding the henhouse is a common result of government regulations. People mistakenly believe that while businesses are self-interested, most people in government act purely out of good intentions and a desire to protect us. In reality, we simply end up arming self-interested people with government power — a very bad combination.

  36. Isabel

    Have you seen this new article?


    I especially enjoy:

    “Studies have found that a diet of sweet, high-fat foods can indeed blunt the body’s built-in fullness signals. Most of them emanate from the digestive tract, which releases chemical messengers including cholecystokinin, glucagon-like peptide and peptide YY when the stomach and intestines are full. Those signals travel up to the brain stem and then the hypothalamus, telling the body to stop eating. ”

    There is no mention of the action insulin levels have on hunger, of course.

    And also:

    “Bypass surgery seems to make food less tempting, too.”…”The bypass patients and the non-obese had scores far lower than those who were currently obese. (Exactly why is still unclear, but some experts think it could relate to “dumping syndrome,” in which high fat and sweet food creates nausea and dizziness in bypass patients. They may have learned to associate such foods with discomfort rather than pleasure.)”

    No shit? Their bodies have been mutilated so that they can’t over eat without suffering discomfort.

    My friend who underwent bypass surgery has all kinds of digestive issues now. She regrets the surgery.

  37. KD

    “Local zoning policies should be considered to reduce fast food restaurant placement near schools.”

    I also agree with the person who said above that elementary school children typically don’t have money to buy fast food. My school had a fast food place one block away, but the only time I ever got fast food after school is when a friend’s mother picked us up and took us through the drive thru for a snack. The concept of having a happy meal as just a snack had been foreign to me at the time because my own mother never took us for fast food except for occasional lunches and dinners. Not that that stopped me from gaining weight as a teenager… I ate bad food at home that I homemade myself… bowls [yes plural] of cereal as a snack. At the time I thought I was eating healthy because I was getting in my grain pyramid allowance. It kills me to think now how much of my weight gain was from the cereal I thought was a good snack for me.

    You and me both. Cereal was my snack of choice as an adolescent, which is when I started gaining weight rapidly.

  38. Gabrielle

    I’m so glad the FDA is able to explain these things to us in a way we can understand and follow without question. Whoops.

    On an ironic ans somewhat related note, i thought you might like to know that the google ads to the right of your entry link to a page stating that high fructose corn syrup is completely natural and “meets the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term ‘natural,'” and that it is nutritionally identical to sugar (http://www.sweetsurprise.com/index.php?q=myths-and-facts/top-hfcs-myths&utm_source=Google&utm_medium=ppc&utm_content=Myths&utm_campaign=CNGeneralCATEGORY&gclid=CLyMisio26cCFRFOgwodCFyb_g). And when confronted with the idea that they are metabolized differently, the article’s answer is that “beverages sweetened with sugar, high fructose corn syrup and 1% milk all have similar effects on feelings of fullness.” Doesn’t that make you feel better?

    Yeah, Google places some strangely inappropriate ads in those spots.

  39. Chris

    Hi Tom,
    Just wanted to say that I saw Fathead a few weeks ago on Netflix (like, it seems, a lot of others did). Watched it right after watching “Supersize Me”, and loved it. You pointed out and lampooned many of the same problems I saw in Supersize Me (the fact that he’s eating 5,000 calories a day, the “I’m addicted” vs. “this food is disgusting”, the vegan theory of male impotency). I caught Fathead just at a point when I started coming around to the utter farce that is the food pyramid and the low-fat jihad. I had read Taubes’ “Big Fat Lie” Times article back when it came out, forgot about it, then read it again a few months ago. I had just finished Oliver’s “Fat Politics” when I caught your movie, and now I’m reading GCBC and “Why We Get Fat”.

    I’m convinced. And I started following the basic diet in the appendix of “Why We Get Fat” (from Westman’s Duke Lifestyle Clinic) last week. Too early to report many results, but I do feel better, and am much happier now eating a diet with a lot of animal fat and very few carbs (without the guilt). Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I think your stuff is spot on and funny, and you do really have a knack for cutting through the smoke and mirrors. I work for a health services research company, and I encounter the misty fog of the public health establishment on a daily basis. I literally just finished arguing with one of my directors (public health person) about the folly of reporting results from less robust statistical models (her view) versus reporting results from more robust statistical models so as not to mislead the audience (my view). I can’t tell you how many times she has trotted out the disclaimer, “oh, we didn’t have enough statistical power to show a difference” when one of the many ill-conceived public health hypotheses falls on its face under the bright light of empirical data.

    I do have one issue to take up with you about the implicit notion that free markets fix everything and that government is solely to blame (maybe that’s a misrepresentation of your views, and if so, I apologize). I mean, the claim that an economist would say that “lack of supermarkets would be associated with lack of community support for supermarkets” is way too simplistic. An economist would probably say that, but they also say that any kind of hiring discrimination is economically irrational, and thus does not happen, which, I think is pretty obviously not true. Plus, economists have the luxury of never having to validate their theories with empirical data – they try to distract with shiny statistics, then claim their challengers are too unsophisticated to understand their analyses (given more space, I can illustrate with an article from Finkelstein, Trogdon, Cohen, and Dietz about the “high cost of obesity”).

    Anyway, people typically build supermarkets in densely populated areas, and I would say that almost any population would have sufficient demand for much of what is sold at a supermarket. And supermarkets are pretty flexible in terms of what they stock. But imagine proposing to build a supermarket in an area where there are only 30 people per square mile – I doubt there is a venture capitalist anywhere who would go for that. Supermarkets have huge overhead, and are dealing with really perishable products. I imagine that even really busy, successful marts still toss out a ton of food. All 30 of those people (or, say, all 600 in a 20 square-mile area with similar low density) could all be demanding fresh produce and meats, but that still wouldn’t be enough to justify, financially, building a supermarket in the middle of that area. Meeting demand isn’t just about what people want, but also about how the people are distributed, the perishability of the products, the efficiency of the supply chain. Conveniency stores sell stuff with a really long shelf life, and raw materials at a McDonalds (or other fast food place) are mostly frozen (or have a long shelf life, like ketchup), plus, McDonalds has a super-efficient supply and production chain – they manage their balance of supply and demand with surgical precision. I’m not saying that government should step in to force or subsidize their own notions of a ‘food landscape’, but markets are not perfect.

    My other issue: government does not operate in a vacuum, and is far from autonomous. Why do you think corn subsidies persist, year after year (to just state one example)? Certain big corporations demand them, and find ways (follow the money) to get the politicians in corn-producing states to keep the subsidies coming. It is a partnership. Then the private corporations (say, Monsanto, or Coke) use the artificially cheap corn to mass produce the very foods that make people fat. These same corporations fund the American Dietectic Association through whom they are able to influence the dietary advice coming out of the government that says, “eat more grains”. Is it the case that we can never fault a private corporation for seeking to maximize it’s own material self-interest, even when they are aware of the negative impacts of their actions?

    Sorry for the diatribe – for probably 98% of what you say and do, I say Bravo!

    We actually agree about the unholy alliance between big corporations and government officials. I don’t excuse the corporations, but see their behavior as exactly what any libertarian economist would predict: people act in their own best interests. Same goes for the government officials; they’re acting in their interests, not ours. That’s why I’m such a firm believer in limited government. Every time government gains new powers, the opportunity for corruption grows accordingly. If you have no special favors to confer, no corporation has any motivation to bribe you.


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