New Dietary Guidelines: Industry Win?

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New Dietary Guidelines: Industry Win?

'It’s astonishing that the new Dietary Guidelines...are actually obscuring science-based recommendations that Americans should significantly cut their red meat intake.'

"The public is being misled," said Dr. Walter Willett, who heads the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. (Photo: Doran/flickr/cc)

The Obama administration on Thursday released new dietary guidelines, and critics say there's a winner but it's not public health or food security.

Marion Nestle, nutrition professor at New York University, writes that we can "count the 2015 Guidelines as a win for the meat, sugary drink, processed, and junk food industries."

The takeaway from Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, is that "Americans urgently need dietary guidance that's better for our health, for the environment and the future of food security, and the new dietary guidelines utterly fail to provide that."

Released by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS), the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are intended to "help Americans make healthy food and beverage choices and serve as the foundation for vital nutrition policies and programs across the United States."

"One concrete change" to the new guidelines is that "Americans are being told to limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories," NPR reported. That 's a change being welcomed by some. Ars Technica reports:

While sugar has always been something health experts recommended limiting, the new guidelines advise a stricter cut. Added sugars—those not naturally found in foods—should make up 10 percent or less of daily calories. The advice echoes that of other health experts, who have linked excess sugar to obesity, heart disease, and some cancers. The change also follows a proposal this summer from the Food and Drug Administration to require food and beverage labels to specifically point out the amount of added sugars.

One problem with the new guidelines environmental groups and food and nutrition experts are pointing to is the lack of specific recommendations on reducing meat consumption.

"USDA and HHS did not include explicit recommendations about the risks of red meat and the benefits of plant-based diets, ignoring clear scientific evidence from their own advisory committee," stated Dr. Andrew A. Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

That's a point echoed by Kari Hamerschlag, senior program manager with Friends of the Earth, who said, "It’s astonishing that the new Dietary Guidelines, which are supposed to help clarify what people should eat, are actually obscuring science-based recommendations that Americans should significantly cut their red meat intake."

"Despite clear evidence that high red meat consumption is linked to cancer and threatens future food security because of its huge resource demands, the 2015 Guidelines failed to make a specific portion size recommendation for red meat, as they did in the 2010 Guidelines," Hamerschlag added.

The American Cancer Society took issue with the omission as well.

"The science on the link between cancer and diet is extensive," stated said Dr. Richard Wender, chief cancer control officer with the organization. "By omitting specific diet recommendations, such as eating less red and processed meat, these guidelines miss a critical and significant opportunity to reduce suffering and death from cancer."

NBC News adds:

Dr. Walter Willett, who heads the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, agreed. "Unfortunately, the USDA has censored the recommendation of the Scientific Advisory Committee to consume less red meat," Willett said.

"In fact, the dietary guidelines promote consumption of red meat as long as it is lean, which is not what the science supports. There is strong evidence that red meat consumption increases risk of diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, and some cancers (especially processed meat), and there is not good evidence that this simply due to the fat content," Willett added.

"This appears to reflect the powerful influences of the beef industry. Unfortunately, the public is being misled."

Rosenberg also saw the guidelines' failures as "apparently due to political pressure from food industry lobbyists," while Hamerschlag said, "The administration has clearly put the financial interests of the meat industry over the weight of the science and the health of the American people."

As for the politics behind why the guidelines can't directly say "Eat less meat...Cut down on sugar drinks...Eat less processed and junk food," Nestle, whose books include Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, writes:

Recall that Congress weighed in with an Appropriations Bill that called for an investigation of the scientific basis of the Guidelines and granted $1 million to the National Academy of Medicine to take them over.

Recall also that the secretaries of USDA and HHS said that the Guidelines would not say anything about sustainability as a rationale for advising eating less meat.

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