Teicholz questions recommendations in dietary guidelines scientific reportWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Over 29,000 public comments were submitted in response to the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, submitted to the Secretaries of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) in February.
According to journalist Nina Teicholz, “The expert report underpinning the next set of U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture, an investigation by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has found.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) agrees. On Sept. 17, he announced a hearing with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell was held Oct. 7 to focus on the process for developing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“Concern about this year’s report has been unprecedented,” Teicholz states in her article, published in BMJ on Sept. 23.
“BMJ has also found that the committee’s report used weak scientific standards, reversing recent efforts by the government to strengthen the scientific review process,” she adds.
In 2010, a systematic review of studies was initiated to bring scientific rigor and transparency to the dietary review process. USDA set up the Nutritional Evidence Library (NEL) to help identify and evaluate relevant studies.
“However, in its 2015 report, the committee stated that it did not use NEL reviews for more than 70 percent of the topics, including some of the most controversial issues,” she remarks.
Instead, much of the data appears to have come from professional associations that have varying standards and often receive large percentages of their revenue from industry.
“Much has been written about how industries try to influence nutrition policy, so it is surprising that unlike authors in most major medical journals, guideline committee members are not required to list their potential conflicts of interest,” she adds.
Sodium, low-carbohydrate diets and saturated fats are among the subjects that Teicholz questions in the dietary report’s findings.
“New proposals by the 2015 report include not only deleting meat from the list of foods recommended as part of its healthy diets but also actively counseling reductions in ‘red and processed meats.’ This advice has been the subject of much debate,” she continues.
Teicholz notes that no information is available from the NEL concerning red meat and health.
“Although several analyses look at ‘animal protein products,’ these reviews include eggs, fish and dairy and therefore do not isolate the health effects of red meat or meat of any kind,” she explains.
Further recommendations by the committee include striving for plant-based diets, but the BMJ report claims that insufficient and contradictory data is used to make those determinations.
“The recommended diets are supported by a miniscule quantity of rigorous evidence that only marginally supports claims that these diets can promote better health than alternatives,” she states.
Teicholz continues, “It may be time to ask our authorities to convene an unbiased and balanced panel of scientists to undertake a comprehensive review, in order to ensure that selection of the dietary guidelines committee becomes more transparent, with better disclosure of the conflicts of interest, and that the most rigorous scientific evidence is reliably used to produce the best possible nutrition policy.”
Conaway has expressed concern about the integrity of the committee’s report as well, submitting letters and seeking information from USDA and HHS. Other government officials working with Conaway include Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Ranking Member Colin Peterson (D-Minn.).
“Every American is affected by these nutritional recommendations, which is why it is essential for them to be based on sound, consistent and irrefutable science,” Conaway remarks.
He adds that the committee exceeded its scope, straying from traditional nutritional recommendations and advising on wider policy issues such as sustainability and tax policy.
“The Agricultural Committee is committed to making sure the 2015 guidelines reflect the science not the individual policy positions of Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members,” he says.
The Big Fat Surprise
Nina Teicholz is the author of The Big Fat Surprise – Why Butter, Meat and Cheese belong in a Healthy American Diet. The book, published in May 2014, suggests that low-fat nutrition advice from the past 60 years has been detrimental to society’s overall health.
The book’s promotional synopsis asks, “What if those exact foods we’ve been denying ourselves – the creamy cheeses, the sizzling steaks – are themselves the key to reversing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease?”
Teicholz shares findings in her book, based on nine years of investigation into dietary science and public perception, questioning conventional wisdom about nutrition.
“Science shows that we have been needlessly avoiding meat, cheese, whole milk and eggs for decades and that we can, guilt-free, welcome these ‘whole fats’ back into our lives,” states the synopsis.