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Congressional Hearing on Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015

Criticism rained on the heads of the Secretaries of Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Agriculture on October 7th, 2015 regarding the pending Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

I recently received a summary of comments, as organized by Nina Teicholz.  Rather than provide the entire, many pages long document, I’ve published some highlights for you.

Please understand that, because this writer is a human being with a passionate viewpoint, you are likely to see what I believe are highlights.  With apologies in advance, please understand that is the problem with reading what humans with strong opinions write. I will try to be even handed, while brief.

These are not necessarily in the order they were spoken, and there may be typos.  Caveats said, here we go:

Guidelines are for prevention, not treatment

VILASCK (Secretary of Agriculture): I think it’s important for people to understand precisely what they [the Guidelines] are and what they are not. This is not about treating disease.

That’s not what these guidelines are about. These guidelines are about preventing that circumstance to begin with. There isn’t an avenue within the guidelines today for that treatment discussion. And that’s I think why there’s a lot of confusion about all of this and why there’s a lot of angst about it, because some people are looking at the guidelines as treating all health issues. And we’re looking at what the law requires us to do, and that is focus on dietary and nutritional guidelines relative to prevention.


Most Americans need treatment


BENISHEK (R-MI): As a physician, I have been involved in peer reviewed science in my training and in my career …That’s why I’m concerned that — because it is leading to me to — some of your comments suggested that, you know, with diabetes and pre-diabetes and obesity are major problems in this country and because of the cutdown in the fat portion of the diet, we’re in — we’re recommending more carbohydrates. Well, this is a — that’s exactly the problem that pre-diabetics and diabetics have is not being able to respond to carbohydrates.

So, I mean, for the majority of the people — 52 percent of the people being pre-diabetic, this is the wrong diet to recommend. So when you say it’s a general diet, well, that’s great, but then it — shouldn’t it be a — you know, the caveats that Ms. Hartwere (ph) mentioned. I mean, this is pretty serious stuff here because I — somebody else mentioned when we were kids, people aren’t as fat back when we were kids; w’were eating more fat.

And it — frankly, it is — it’s not an exercise thing as — as — as far as I can see because, you know, I’m experienced with that. You — if you eat a lot, you can — you can’t exercise it all off. You have to get it right.


Infants, children and youth are not served


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…

In particular, I’m concerned because young children need certain vitamins and minerals, obviously, in order to grow and develop. You know, we’re talking about where in previous reports, the expert report states that their recommended dietary patterns do not meet sufficiency goals for potassium, vitamin D, vitamin E, choline and a vitamin A sufficiency, may be marginal.

Conflicts of interest on the committee

A.SCOTT (R-GA): There are certainly some questions about the fact that Ms. Millen (ph) was from the private sector there are questions about the fact that she’s now a member of the private sector chairing the committee.

Historically, we have not allowed industry representatives on the panel.


Red meat


The following discussion of red meat is in order of occurrence: 


VILSACK (Secretary of Agriculture): In terms of the issue of red meat, I think it’s fairly clear that there’s a recognition that lean meat is and should be part of a healthy diet. I think the challenge is to understand that as Americans, if we look at the obesity epidemic that we’re confronting in this country, that some of us are consuming more calories than we should.

And so the recommendation is in relationship to the over all consumption of calories, and one way to reduce the overall consumption of calories is obviously to eat less of certain things. And in that category would be red meat, but that’s by no means the only thing in that category. So I want to be clear here…


ROGERS (R-AL): Well, I don’t understand. I’m sorry, Mr. Vilsack, but why would you include in that category red meat? I mean, why wouldn’t you just say anything that takes you over a caloric level that’s unacceptable, you shouldn’t eat. Why would there be a category of things not to eat?

VILSACK (Secretary of Agriculture): There — because of the importance of having balance in terms of what you consume, in terms of what a healthy diet consists of. Again, remember what this is. It’s a set of guidelines which is designed to give you the best chance of reducing cardiovascular, cancer and chronic diseases.

ROGERS (R-AL): But wouldn’t red meat be part of a…

VILSACK (Secretary of Agriculture): It is.

ROGERS (R-AL): … list of things that you should eat as long as you eat lean…

VILSACK (Secretary of Agriculture): It is. It is. That’s what I’m saying.

ROGERS (R-AL): I’m sorry. I thought you said that you would put it in a list of things not to eat.

VILSACK (Secretary of Agriculture): No.

VILSACK (Secretary of Agriculture): I can, and I can also suggest — it’s my understanding — and maybe I’m wrong about this — that the report basically is fairly consistent with the recommendation that was made in the 2010 guidelines with reference to lean meat. I would be surprised if our final conclusion is not to include that as part of a healthy diet.


What I think


If the Dietary Guidelines for Americans were just guidelines, America could take them or leave them. But the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are mandates. They mandate the contents of school lunch programs, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for low income women, children and families), influence hospital food and more.


With the health of our nation at stake, complacency contributes to our current problem.  As Dr. Benishek rightly points out to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, “You have to get it right.”


I let my Representative know what I think.  Let your Representative know what you think.


Thank you.


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