The Dietary Guidelines Committee Receives The Spanking It Deserves

The journal Nutrition just published a paper titled In The Face Of Contradictory Evidence: Report Of The Dietary Guidelines For Americans Committee.  The authors are Adele Hite, MAT; Richard Feinman, PhD; Gabriel Guzman, PhD; Morton Satin, MSc; Pamela Schoenfeld, RD; and Richard Wood, PhD.

Let’s hope this gets some major media play.  Sure, a lot of bloggers ripped the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for spouting the same old nonsense, but we’re bloggers, not academic researchers, so we’re easy to ignore.

It’s not so easy to dismiss this group, especially when their paper is published in a respected journal.  Professional courtesy dictates they avoid the kind of language I would use to describe the Dietary Guidelines committee (morons, hacks, anti-fat hysterics, etc.), but if you read the paper, the message is clear:  Nice attempt at wading through the research, kids … now stop going wee-wee in the pool and go dry yourselves off, because it’s time for the adults to swim — after we give you a well-deserved spanking, of course.

This paragraph from the abstract pretty much sums it up:

Although appealing to an evidence-based methodology, the DGAC Report demonstrates several critical weaknesses, including use of an incomplete body of relevant science; inaccurately representing, interpreting, or summarizing the literature; and drawing conclusions and/or making recommendations that do not reflect the limitations or controversies in the science.

It’s followed soon after by this paragraph from the paper’s introduction:

The DGAC Report had the opportunity to review and evaluate the emerging science, to distinguish between established principles and ideas that are still areas of research or controversy, and to provide clear, consistent information for Americans. Instead, the 2010 DGAC Report continues to make one-size-fits-all recommendations that are based on evidence that is weak, fragmented, and even contradictory in nature.

Yup, the DGAC coulda been contenders.  They coulda had class.  Instead, they got together and went wee-wee in the pool.  In the Nutrition article, the adults call attention to the wee-wee.  For example, the DGAC Report complains that Americans aren’t following the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which of course call for consuming less fat and more carbohydrates.  The adults beg to differ:

Average daily calories from meat, eggs, and nuts have increased by about 20 cal since 1970 as average daily calories from flour and cereal products have increased by nearly 10 times that amount (p. D1-10). In short, the macronutrient content of the diet has shifted in the direction recommended since the 1977 dietary goals.

Total and saturated fat intakes have decreased as a percentage of calories for men, the absolute amount has decreased whereas carbohydrate intake has increased. Notable from the DGAC Report is the absence of any concern that this shift in macronutrient content may be a factor in the increase in overweight /obesity and chronic disease; the proposed recommendations suggest that this trend should not only continue but also become more pronounced.

Well, it’s a government committee, so they had to adopt the government’s stategy for dealing with obvious failures:  hold up the failure as proof that we need to do the same thing again, only bigger.

After pointing out the general wee-wee, the Nutrition article deals with many of the individual streams.  In fact, the topic headings in the paper read like a list of charges.  Here are few sample headings:

Macronutrients: Research questions are formulated in a way that prevents a thorough investigation of the literature

Macronutrients and weight loss: Science is inaccurately summarized

Low-carbohydrate diets: Science is inaccurately represented

Low-carbohydrate diets: Conclusions do not reflect quantity and/or quality of relevant science

Effects of saturated fat: Answers based on an incomplete body of relevant science

Effects of saturated fat: Science is inaccurately represented or summarized

Diabetes and fat: Science is inaccurately represented or summarized

Dietary fiber and whole grains: Conclusions do not reflect the quantity and/or quality of science

Salt: Recommendations do not reflect limitations and uncertainties of the science

You get the idea.  Within each topic, the authors point out the many flaws in the scientific “evidence” cited to support the 2010 Dietary Guidelines … the cherry-picking, the incorrect conclusions, and the contradictions.  If you’re interested in the details, you can read the full paper.

Towards the end of the paper, the authors present a little history:

It is of interest to consider the opinion of the American Medical Association (AMA) with respect to the first implementation of dietary guidelines. In an editorial, it was stated:

“We believe that it would be inappropriate at this time to adopt proposed national dietary goals as set forth in the Report on Dietary Goals for the United States. The evidence for assuming that benefits to be derived from the adoption of such universal dietary goals as set forth in the Report is not conclusive and there is potential for harmful effects from a radical long-term dietary change as would occur through adoption of the proposed national goals.”

In the three decades since, carbohydrate consumption has increased; overall fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol consumption have decreased to near or below targeted levels; caloric intake remains within recommended levels; and leisure-time physical activity has increased slightly (pp. D1-1, D3-10, B2-3). At the same time, scientific evidence in favor of these recommendations remains inconclusive, and we must consider the possibility that the “potential for harmful effects” has in fact been realized.

I don’t think we have to consider that possibility very deeply.  If the potential for harm hasn’t been realized, I’d sure hate to see what real harm looks like.

In addition to calling for a halt to the “population-wide dietary experiment” that began in 1977 with the McGovern committee’s report, the authors suggest convening a group of impartial scientists to re-examine all the evidence.  In the meantime, they say, it’s time for public officials and clinicians to stop blaming Americans for the obesity epidemic by claiming we’re not following the government’s advice.

Since I’m not writing for an academic journal, I’d put it a little differently:  It’s time for the government’s nutrition “experts” to stop making wee-wee on our heads and telling us it’s raining.


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84 thoughts on “The Dietary Guidelines Committee Receives The Spanking It Deserves

  1. Elenor

    Oh Tom, I just LOVE you! Well done!

    Thank you, but the kudos go to the authors of the paper. Nice to see actual scientists speaking up.

    Reply
  2. Tracey Butler

    Brilliant – nice to see there are some real scientists in the nutrition field after all! Will be interesting to see if this is picked up by media, or buried as fast as possible to save any ’embarrassment’.

    That will be interesting to see. Fingers crossed.

    Reply
  3. Namine

    I feel good about this. Wondering if this is how many rational thinkers felt when Descartes released his paper on rationalism, or when Newton wrote Principia. Compared to the researchers on nutrition the past 50 years, the writers of this article can and should be considered philosophers.

    I’d settle for the media viewing them as scientists and realizing the DGAC members aren’t.

    Reply
  4. mezzo

    Thanks for spreading the news, Tom. I am spreading it further in my German nutrition forum – we all need a little hope and could certainly use a critical review of our own nutritional guidelines. Fortunately, while they lean heavily towards carbs they do not slash animal protein as strongly as yours and eggs have been officially absolved. The animal fats, however, are still portrayed as the big bad guy and the vegetable oils are still being pushed. Knowing how bad they can be for humans one feels like weeping.

    I’m afraid the U.S. may be the last to admit the anti-fat campaign was misguided, since it pretty much began here.

    Reply
  5. Elenor

    Oh Tom, I just LOVE you! Well done!

    Thank you, but the kudos go to the authors of the paper. Nice to see actual scientists speaking up.

    Reply
  6. Tracey Butler

    Brilliant – nice to see there are some real scientists in the nutrition field after all! Will be interesting to see if this is picked up by media, or buried as fast as possible to save any ’embarrassment’.

    That will be interesting to see. Fingers crossed.

    Reply
  7. Namine

    I feel good about this. Wondering if this is how many rational thinkers felt when Descartes released his paper on rationalism, or when Newton wrote Principia. Compared to the researchers on nutrition the past 50 years, the writers of this article can and should be considered philosophers.

    I’d settle for the media viewing them as scientists and realizing the DGAC members aren’t.

    Reply
  8. Tammy

    Someone needs to make sure Michelle Obama gets a complete copy of this latest report. Or better yet, to go really mainstream, the authors need to be featured on Oprah.

    I’m not sure if people in government are truly interested in hearing this information. It would undermine their belief that it’s up to them to save us with mo’ better federal programs.

    Reply
  9. mezzo

    Thanks for spreading the news, Tom. I am spreading it further in my German nutrition forum – we all need a little hope and could certainly use a critical review of our own nutritional guidelines. Fortunately, while they lean heavily towards carbs they do not slash animal protein as strongly as yours and eggs have been officially absolved. The animal fats, however, are still portrayed as the big bad guy and the vegetable oils are still being pushed. Knowing how bad they can be for humans one feels like weeping.

    I’m afraid the U.S. may be the last to admit the anti-fat campaign was misguided, since it pretty much began here.

    Reply
  10. Be

    I was curious if you would get around to this study. I read it last weekend and was encouraged. Hey, at least we get glimmers of “Adult Swim”!

    I read a preview copy last week as well, but the accompanying press release said to hold it until October 1st. By then it was already Friday.

    Reply
  11. Bruce

    “Bob and Bobbi in the Morning” will probably report it as…

    Studies show we need more vegetables. More on this after a commercial break and then, what Paris Hilton is up to today. You’ll want to stay tuned for that. Also will Oprah amaze you on her show today. See who her guests are!!!

    Reply
  12. Paolo

    The world is changing. I sent this paper to the italian nutritionist I’m discussing (ahem.. ahem… ) with and he claimed this paper doesn’t mean anything, it just suggests a small change to guidelines as people are getting obese…

    I’d say he’s beyond convincing. Probably can’t bear the thought that he’s been giving out bad advice all these years.

    Reply
  13. PrimeNumbers

    I get so fed up of reading news stories about diets, and the research paper is not either linked to, or only the abstract is available freely. I’m very happy in this case the full paper is available for reading and I look forward to doing so.

    I was happy to see it available online as well. Often I have to send out distress signals to some researchers to find full-text copies of articles.

    Reply
  14. Paul451

    That paper was like a breath of fresh air! I’ll be citing it to friends and other interested people from now on.

    Reply
  15. Tammy

    Someone needs to make sure Michelle Obama gets a complete copy of this latest report. Or better yet, to go really mainstream, the authors need to be featured on Oprah.

    I’m not sure if people in government are truly interested in hearing this information. It would undermine their belief that it’s up to them to save us with mo’ better federal programs.

    Reply
  16. Brian

    Hey Tom,

    You’re not peeing on my head, are you?

    Let’s hope something comes of this.

    Brian

    No, no, no … that’s a genuine sprinkle from above.

    Reply
  17. Be

    I was curious if you would get around to this study. I read it last weekend and was encouraged. Hey, at least we get glimmers of “Adult Swim”!

    I read a preview copy last week as well, but the accompanying press release said to hold it until October 1st. By then it was already Friday.

    Reply
  18. JCohn

    What, is it April 1st already?

    I sincerely hope that this is only the first shot across the bow of the DGAC.

    My only regret is that there is no penal code for bad science. If it were, the Dietary Guidelines would be evidence of a Class A Felony with Special Enhancements.

    Unfortunately, the punishment for bad science often comes in the form of a new research grant.

    Reply
  19. Bruce

    “Bob and Bobbi in the Morning” will probably report it as…

    Studies show we need more vegetables. More on this after a commercial break and then, what Paris Hilton is up to today. You’ll want to stay tuned for that. Also will Oprah amaze you on her show today. See who her guests are!!!

    Reply
  20. Paolo

    The world is changing. I sent this paper to the italian nutritionist I’m discussing (ahem.. ahem… ) with and he claimed this paper doesn’t mean anything, it just suggests a small change to guidelines as people are getting obese…

    I’d say he’s beyond convincing. Probably can’t bear the thought that he’s been giving out bad advice all these years.

    Reply
  21. Thom Brogan

    The problem with the criticism is two-fold:

    1. It’s fact based (always a kiss of death or nigh-mortality)
    2. The authors’ agenda won’t lead to large-scale mercantilist-style subsidizing of agricultural industries nor remove existing subsidies from Big Corn and Big Soy.

    It will be greeted with a patronizing thanks for its authors’ hard work and celebrated with a round of soy smoothies on the taxpayers’ dime.

    I’m not calling for a statist-based interest in low-carb diets, but doubt many in the government would care about such approaches unless there’s power and money in it for them.

    Then again, I’d like to be a shill for Big Pork for both the epithet and the pancetta and prosciutto kickbacks…

    I’m afraid you’ve got a point. Our government is not a disinterested party here; they’re big-time investors in grains.

    Reply
  22. PrimeNumbers

    I get so fed up of reading news stories about diets, and the research paper is not either linked to, or only the abstract is available freely. I’m very happy in this case the full paper is available for reading and I look forward to doing so.

    I was happy to see it available online as well. Often I have to send out distress signals to some researchers to find full-text copies of articles.

    Reply
  23. Crusader

    Every day that passes we get closer to low-carb not being dismissed as a fad-diet and will eventually become THE norm.

    Reply
  24. Paul451

    That paper was like a breath of fresh air! I’ll be citing it to friends and other interested people from now on.

    Reply
  25. shutchings

    Thank you for your excellent blog, but please find a different analogy. Swimming is the only exercise I can tolerate, and I already have to convince myself it’s all going to be okay every time I get in a public pool. 😛

    Um … how about “Stop going wee-wee in the sandbox” … ?

    Reply
  26. Brian

    Hey Tom,

    You’re not peeing on my head, are you?

    Let’s hope something comes of this.

    Brian

    No, no, no … that’s a genuine sprinkle from above.

    Reply
  27. JCohn

    What, is it April 1st already?

    I sincerely hope that this is only the first shot across the bow of the DGAC.

    My only regret is that there is no penal code for bad science. If it were, the Dietary Guidelines would be evidence of a Class A Felony with Special Enhancements.

    Unfortunately, the punishment for bad science often comes in the form of a new research grant.

    Reply
  28. Dan

    I won’t be swimming in that pool any more. That population-wide dietary experiment was not good for me. And I didn’t even volunteer for it. I just blindly let myself be assimilated with disasterous results. In general, it’s best to do the opposite of the government’s advice.

    Good to see that the real scientists are speaking up and have a forum to do so.

    Reply
  29. Erik Danielsen

    Searching the web for more dialogue regarding this new paper (sadly I haven’t seen much mainstream discussion just yet) I came across this gem:

    http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/other-grain-group-comments-2010-dietary-guidelines-20100429.pdf

    Specific recommendations to the GDAC from various “grain groups.” Aside from the mostly junk science and plain old conjecture they use to support their recommendations, the list of references and groups at the bottom really illustrate just how much money there is behind the push for grains and a high-carbohydrate diet- and these are just the groups that the industry SUPPORTS. The industry itself is of course a whole extra money pot on top of that.

    It’s interesting how a common attitude in their rationale is that the guidelines should be based on an assumption that americans are inevitably going to make poor dietary choices or would find it difficult to do something other than eat grains for their nutrient intake because of… well, I don’t know. For some reason. Because we all know everyone wants to just eat french fries all day, that’s why.

    Also they recommend that refined grains be recommended in the diet because whole grains alone lack a variety of important nutrients (they make a big deal about folic acid, which sounds to me like a great pitch for the benefits of spinach), which seems to be a very subtle admission of the nutritional deficiency of cereal grains. Interesting how that works. Of course, the attitude is still that americans are too incompetent to choose foods that naturally contain folic acid, so they should eat more chemically-enriched refined grains. It’s just ridiculous.

    Wow, that is an interesting justification they put together there. It’s a bit like recommending chewing tobacco because by gosh, if we don’t, people will smoke cigarettes.

    Reply
  30. Thom Brogan

    The problem with the criticism is two-fold:

    1. It’s fact based (always a kiss of death or nigh-mortality)
    2. The authors’ agenda won’t lead to large-scale mercantilist-style subsidizing of agricultural industries nor remove existing subsidies from Big Corn and Big Soy.

    It will be greeted with a patronizing thanks for its authors’ hard work and celebrated with a round of soy smoothies on the taxpayers’ dime.

    I’m not calling for a statist-based interest in low-carb diets, but doubt many in the government would care about such approaches unless there’s power and money in it for them.

    Then again, I’d like to be a shill for Big Pork for both the epithet and the pancetta and prosciutto kickbacks…

    I’m afraid you’ve got a point. Our government is not a disinterested party here; they’re big-time investors in grains.

    Reply
  31. Hilary Kyro

    One step forward, two steps back…today Dr. Oz cleared up the soy controversy; it’s a better part of a plant-based diet than chicken nuggets. You need about 27 mgs of pseudo-estrogens to be normal.

    So I’ll have boobs and a healthy heart. Great deal.

    Reply
  32. Crusader

    Every day that passes we get closer to low-carb not being dismissed as a fad-diet and will eventually become THE norm.

    Reply
  33. shutchings

    Thank you for your excellent blog, but please find a different analogy. Swimming is the only exercise I can tolerate, and I already have to convince myself it’s all going to be okay every time I get in a public pool. 😛

    Um … how about “Stop going wee-wee in the sandbox” … ?

    Reply
  34. Dan

    I won’t be swimming in that pool any more. That population-wide dietary experiment was not good for me. And I didn’t even volunteer for it. I just blindly let myself be assimilated with disasterous results. In general, it’s best to do the opposite of the government’s advice.

    Good to see that the real scientists are speaking up and have a forum to do so.

    Reply
  35. Erik Danielsen

    Searching the web for more dialogue regarding this new paper (sadly I haven’t seen much mainstream discussion just yet) I came across this gem:

    http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/other-grain-group-comments-2010-dietary-guidelines-20100429.pdf

    Specific recommendations to the GDAC from various “grain groups.” Aside from the mostly junk science and plain old conjecture they use to support their recommendations, the list of references and groups at the bottom really illustrate just how much money there is behind the push for grains and a high-carbohydrate diet- and these are just the groups that the industry SUPPORTS. The industry itself is of course a whole extra money pot on top of that.

    It’s interesting how a common attitude in their rationale is that the guidelines should be based on an assumption that americans are inevitably going to make poor dietary choices or would find it difficult to do something other than eat grains for their nutrient intake because of… well, I don’t know. For some reason. Because we all know everyone wants to just eat french fries all day, that’s why.

    Also they recommend that refined grains be recommended in the diet because whole grains alone lack a variety of important nutrients (they make a big deal about folic acid, which sounds to me like a great pitch for the benefits of spinach), which seems to be a very subtle admission of the nutritional deficiency of cereal grains. Interesting how that works. Of course, the attitude is still that americans are too incompetent to choose foods that naturally contain folic acid, so they should eat more chemically-enriched refined grains. It’s just ridiculous.

    Wow, that is an interesting justification they put together there. It’s a bit like recommending chewing tobacco because by gosh, if we don’t, people will smoke cigarettes.

    Reply
  36. Hilary Kyro

    One step forward, two steps back…today Dr. Oz cleared up the soy controversy; it’s a better part of a plant-based diet than chicken nuggets. You need about 27 mgs of pseudo-estrogens to be normal.

    So I’ll have boobs and a healthy heart. Great deal.

    Reply
  37. Shmaltzy

    Tom, thought you might be interested in this: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/obesity-problem-is-bigger-than-we-think-despite-gdp-benefits-20101005-16630.html.

    Interesting concept: obesity is a win-win-win situation…”The more you eat the more you add to GDP and the profits of businesses. If the messages of advertising and marketing make you self-conscious about your overweight, everything you spend on fancy diets, gym subscriptions etc adds to GDP.

    And then when you damage your health, everything you, the government and your health fund spend on trying to keep you going adds to GDP. Even when you die prematurely that won’t count as a negative against GDP, although the absence of your continued consumption will be missed.”

    And this: “Although healthcare spending for obese people is at least 25 per cent higher than for someone of normal weight, and increases rapidly as people get fatter, severely obese people are likely to die eight to 10 years earlier, so their shorter lives mean they incur lower healthcare costs over their lifetime. It’s even greater than the saving on smokers.”

    There you have it. Obesity is great for the economy. Let’s keep shoving in those bagels…

    Now those federal dietary guidelines are starting to make sense.

    Reply
  38. McAnon

    Don’t forget, according to Lierre Keith (The Vegetarian Myth) with your 27 mgs of pseudo-estrogen comes brain shrinkage from glial cells not receiving the signals to reproduce as often as the signals for programmed cell death, as well as cognition and memory problems. Then there’s the thyroid disorders from the lectin-induced iodine deficiency… as well as the way in which the phytoestrogens can cause infertility in both males and females… if I didn’t know better I’d swear “edible” soy products were just slow-acting poisons chemical manufacturers couldn’t find a use for until they started investing in marketing/PR firms…

    I suddenly have a strange urge to buy 100 stamps and mass-mail printouts of this study to nutritionists/health researchers…

    Selling soy as a health food was one of the best P.R. con-jobs ever pulled off.

    Reply
  39. Shmaltzy

    Tom, thought you might be interested in this: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/obesity-problem-is-bigger-than-we-think-despite-gdp-benefits-20101005-16630.html.

    Interesting concept: obesity is a win-win-win situation…”The more you eat the more you add to GDP and the profits of businesses. If the messages of advertising and marketing make you self-conscious about your overweight, everything you spend on fancy diets, gym subscriptions etc adds to GDP.

    And then when you damage your health, everything you, the government and your health fund spend on trying to keep you going adds to GDP. Even when you die prematurely that won’t count as a negative against GDP, although the absence of your continued consumption will be missed.”

    And this: “Although healthcare spending for obese people is at least 25 per cent higher than for someone of normal weight, and increases rapidly as people get fatter, severely obese people are likely to die eight to 10 years earlier, so their shorter lives mean they incur lower healthcare costs over their lifetime. It’s even greater than the saving on smokers.”

    There you have it. Obesity is great for the economy. Let’s keep shoving in those bagels…

    Now those federal dietary guidelines are starting to make sense.

    Reply
  40. McAnon

    Don’t forget, according to Lierre Keith (The Vegetarian Myth) with your 27 mgs of pseudo-estrogen comes brain shrinkage from glial cells not receiving the signals to reproduce as often as the signals for programmed cell death, as well as cognition and memory problems. Then there’s the thyroid disorders from the lectin-induced iodine deficiency… as well as the way in which the phytoestrogens can cause infertility in both males and females… if I didn’t know better I’d swear “edible” soy products were just slow-acting poisons chemical manufacturers couldn’t find a use for until they started investing in marketing/PR firms…

    I suddenly have a strange urge to buy 100 stamps and mass-mail printouts of this study to nutritionists/health researchers…

    Selling soy as a health food was one of the best P.R. con-jobs ever pulled off.

    Reply
  41. Chris

    Been a while since I commented here. Appreciate your digging and writing. I thought you might enjoy the sales job that the National Pasta Association does on their website:

    “Refined (or processed) grains have seen their share of negative news headlines lately. With so many talking heads vilifying “white carbs,” it’s easy to be confused. To set the facts straight, we turn to science, where the unique health benefits of pasta are supported by sound research.”

    (I’m waiting)

    “Nutrition experts routinely recommend a balance of both whole and enriched grains to ensure a nutritionally complete diet that provides the essential vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (Phytonutrients are the health-protective substances in plat foods—fruits vegetables and grains—that promote health and help reduce risk of chronic disease.)”

    (Still waiting.)

    “Pasta is the perfect foundation for healthy, nutritious and satisfying meals: Pasta is generally eaten with nutrient dense food partners, such as fiber-filled vegetables and beans, heart healthy fish and monounsaturated oils, antioxidant-rich tomato sauce and protein packed cheese, poultry and lean meats.”

    (How can you write this and live with yourself?)

    When the best thing you can say about the product your shilling is that it is often eaten with nutrient dense food partners, you have lost your argument.

    Turns out the “nutrition experts” aren’t and never have been experts.

    Wow … you almost have to feel sorry for whoever was given that writing assignment.

    Reply
  42. McAnon

    “Hey look, that rat we fed desert cobra venom is finally dead”

    “Oh, I see… so did its blood pressure rise or fall on this natural, sustainably grown local Nevada Desert supplement?”

    “…It has no blood pressure, it’s dead Jim – have you been attending Soy Council conferences again?”

    “Yes I have… so would you agree that natural Cobra venom reduces blood pressure and cures a racing heart, but when abused or taken above the recommended daily limit may cause hypoactive cardiac stimulation in some patients?”

    Reply

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