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Most Americans have one or more chronic diet-related health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers, an advisory panel told government agencies in a final report.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee proposed federal departments endorse cutbacks on alcohol to just one drink on days when alcohol is consumed. Other recommendations included reducing consumption of added sugars from 10% of caloric intake to less than 6%. Children younger than 2 shouldn’t drink sugar-sweetened beverages, the report, released Wednesday, said.
Federal food assistance programs, military rations, and doctors’ dietary recommendations reflect the guidelines.
The panel’s conclusions have stirred controversy, with critics saying the independent committee, made up of 20 doctors and academics, hasn’t had ample time to consider the latest health and nutrition science.
The Nutrition Coalition, a nonprofit, and trade group the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are among organizations that wanted the panel to defer this month’s final report, which guides the Agriculture and Health and Human Services departments in putting together the rules every five years.
The agencies “just seem to be steamrolling this process through, and ignoring all the calls for delay,” said Nina Teicholz, executive director of The Nutrition Coalition.
The Agriculture Department is aware that some stakeholders requested a delay in the guidelines’ development, but the committee requested additional time only once during the height of the coronavirus outbreak, an agency spokesperson said. An extra month was subsequently provided, the official added. HHS didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Agriculture Department estimates that final guidelines for the next five years will be released by the end of December.
Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), ranking member on the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations, led the congressional call to suspend the committee’s June 17 deadline for its draft advisory report. Still, the preliminary recommendations were released as scheduled at a public meeting.
Bipartisan members of the House Agriculture Committee raised concerns in 2015 about oversight of the dietary guidelines committee. Congress directed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to review its process, and establish recommendations.
This year’s panel “appears on track to simply bring forward the existing 2015 Guidelines,” Johnson said in a June 8 letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. He said the guidelines should no longer focus on maintaining good health, which now serves “only a small minority of the U.S. population,” since most Americans have a diet-related health issue.
Pam Miller, the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service administrator, said her agency and HHS “take all comments about the dietary guidelines process very seriously.”
“We have relied on the nation’s leading scientists and dietary experts to inform our development of science-based guidelines and have taken numerous steps to promote transparency, integrity, and public involvement,” Miller added.
‘Suffer in Silence’
The Nutrition Coalition pushed for a federal investigation into allegations that the group said one or more whistleblowers on the committee disclosed anonymously. Concerns listed in a June 2 letter included not only time pressures, but also lack of constant standards across subcommittees, limited communication between members, and a “fear of retaliation” leaving some members to “suffer in silence.”
An Agriculture Department spokesperson said the agency and HHS have both individually responded to the letter.
The official said this is the first time the list of topics and questions examined by the committee was shared at the beginning of the process. Those topics include dietary patterns, pregnancy and lactation, and frequency of eating.
The committee endorsed caps on saturated fats—a move that proponents of low-carbohydrate diets contest. Johnson’s letter said including low-carb diets in the guidelines would help people who are obese or have diabetes.
The International Dairy Foods Association said it was “disappointed” the report didn’t explore the “robust evidence to support the inclusion of dairy foods at all fat levels in recommended food patterns.”
The current iteration of the guidelines spans 2015 to 2020. A public meeting on the final report is planned for Aug. 11, and written comments will be accepted through Aug. 13.
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan U. Boyanton in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org