WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2015 - Chatter surrounding the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) had died down in recent months, but an upcoming House Ag Committee hearing and a journal article critical of the science used in the committee’s report rekindled a few fires among opponents of some of the DGAC’s recommendations.
In an article in the British Medical Journal, investigative journalist Nina Teicholz was critical of the scientific review process, wondering if the science used to justify some of the committee’s recommendations was even scientific at all. Teicholz pointed specifically to committee recommendations for reduced intakes of sodium, saturated, fat, and carbohydrates, but said there were also more general problems with the report.In her article, Teicholz, the author of “The Big Fat Surprise,” said the DGAC report “used weak scientific standards, reversing recent efforts by the government to strengthen the scientific review process. This backsliding seems to have made the report vulnerable to internal bias as well as outside agendas.”
Teicholz took special issue with the National Evidence Library (NEL), the body of scientific evidence used by the DGAC as the basis for its recommendations. She said it excluded many studies in conflict with the report’s recommendations, something she said “reflects an apparent failure to address any evidence that contradicts what has been official nutritional advice for the past 35 years.”
“The overall lack of sound science and proper methods in the 2015 report could be seen as a reluctance to depart from existing dietary recommendations,” Teicholz said. She said that the panel abandoned NEL review methods, which “has also allowed outside agendas to enter into the report, most clearly in the form of the new consideration for environmental sustainability.”
Agricultural groups have vocally opposed much of the DGAC’s final report, mainly in regards to its findings on lean meat and sustainability. The DGAC recommended a diet lower in lean meat, but acknowledged that lean meat could be a part of a healthy dietary pattern. Sustainability concerns were also included in the report for the first time, as the DGAC insinuated that environmental concerns could provide additional rationale to follow the guidelines.
In an email to Agri-Pulse, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services – which is working with USDA to produce a new edition of the guidelines – said it was “unfortunate” that the British Medical Journal decided to print the article “given the prevalence of errors,” without being specific. Some have said Teicholz criticized the DGAC for ignoring studies that were actually included in the NEL. She also has been faulted for including misinformation about the committee members and for conflicts of interest.
When the DGAC report was released in February, the committee was officially disbanded, leaving representatives from USDA and HHS to review the report and the more than 29,000 comments it generated. Capitol Hill is also getting in on the act, and the House Ag Committee has scheduled a hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell for next Wednesday. The guidelines are expected to be released by the end of 2015.
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