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Congressional statements and action on the Dietary Guidelines

Congress has expressed concern about the Dietary Guidelines, in hearings and letters.

On October 7, 2015, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing on the Dietary Guidelines, at which HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack testified.

There was bipartisan concern that the Guidelines are not working. Among the issues raised were:

  • the DGAs are prescribed for children, yet there is no data on children;
  • the 2015 DGA Advisory Committee may not have used proper procedures in reviewing the scientific evidence (by not consulting the USDA’s Nutrition Evidence Library on key reviews) and consequentially, that the best and most current evidence was not included in reviews (as documented in an article in The British Medical Journal);
  • standards of evidence may not be rigorous enough for national policy recommendations, resulting in reversals that are confusing and ultimately erode the public trust;
  • the USDA recommended diets are nutritionally insufficient;
  • there appeared to have been a lack of government oversight of the DGA process, resulting in the introduction of non-nutrition-related issues;
  • members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are not required to disclose their conflicts of interest, reflecting a lack of transparency;
  • the Guidelines, which are meant to prevent rather than treat disease, do not address the more than half the population that is now pre-diabetic or diabetic.

Some quotes:

CONAWAY (R-TX): Serious questions have been raised about the overall oversight of the overall DGAC process… Hopefully, the next time the question will be asked: Are the guidelines themselves contributing to the problem? The emphasis on carbohydrates over the last 20 years and the impact it’s had on — on these issues that we’re talking about with obesity or diabetes, other things.

D. SCOTT (D-GA): I’m very concerned that you’re not using the most relevant, basic, and the best science-related information in formulating these guidelines. You certainly did not use some of the most recent peer- reviewed and published nutrition and diet-related science. It was not even considered by the advisory committee and not even included in the evidence-based library to be considered by the advisory committee when they were finalized in the report. That’s a fact.

NEWHOUSE (R-WA): I worry greatly about the process and the guidance and oversight they have been given.

PETERSON (D-MN): These guidelines that have pushed people away from eggs and butter and milk, and so forth, and then they come back and say, well, We were wrong, you know? What are we going to do to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future? I just want you to understand from my constituents, most of them don’t believe this stuff anymore. You have lost your credibility with a lot of people, and they are just flat-out ignoring this stuff.

A. SCOTT (R-GA): There’s a belief, then, that the people on the committee entered with a bias in some way, shape or form and were searching for the science to back up what they already believed to be true, instead of using the best available science. Whether it’s true or not, we can debate, but there is that — there’s a credibility gap from those things working their way into the report.

KELLY (R-MS): We’re concerned that the public at large has lost faith in the process to develop the dietary guidelines which will ultimately decrease the adherence to them with potentially costly effects on public health… I think it’s just important that the citizens want to know that we’re not using science to justify ideology, that it’s the other way around.

BENISHEK (R-MI): As a physician, I have been involved in peer reviewed science in my training and in my career and I’m a little bit concerned about some of the things you guys have said here. … 52 percent of Americans are pre-diabetic or diabetic, and yet, the dietary recommendations that, as I understand it, are not really appropriate for that…. So, I mean, for the majority of the people… this is the wrong diet to recommend.

DAVIS (R-IL): My most serious concern today is what I see as a lack of evidence to show that the recommended dietary patterns proposed by DGA have been based on any evidence on children. According to the citations in some previous advisory reports for recommendations, the recommended diet has been tested almost exclusively on middle-aged men and women whose nutritional needs obviously are very different from young people and growing children.

For more highlights, including responses by the Secretaries, click here.

Letters:

March 4, 2015 letter from the House Agriculture Committee to Secretaries Burwell and Vilsack regarding concerns about the process used by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

March 12, 2015 letter from the Senate to Secretaries Burwell and Vilsack on the removal of “lean meat” from the recommended dietary patterns

March 31, 2015 letter from the House to Secretaries Burwell and Vilsack on overall concerns about the scientific evidence behind the guidelines.

May 14, 2015 letter from the House Agriculture Committee to Secretaries Burwell and Vilsack on the need to review the unprecedented number of public comments submitted on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report.