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Scientific Panel on New Dietary Guidelines Draws Criticism From Health Advocates

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The US is to a great extent controlled by major corporations, whose interest in the public’s welfare is minimal. Thus nutrition/food guidelines tend to be crafted to support the sale of (highly profitable) junk food rather than fresh vegetables and fruit, dried beans and whole grain, because those are commodities and the big bucks are in candy, soda pop, and highly processed foods.

Andrew Jacbos writes in the NY Times:

Are children who consume prodigious amounts of sugary drinks at higher risk for cardiovascular disease?

Can a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes reduce the risk of hip fractures in older adults?

Should sweetened yogurts be a part of a healthy diet for toddlers making their first foray into solid food?

These and other nutrition-related questions will be addressed on Wednesday when a panel of 20 nutrition scientistsmeeting publicly by videoconference, discusses suggested changes to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommendations that directly impact the eating habits of millions of people through food stamp policies, school lunch menus and the product formulations embraced by food manufacturers.

The guidelines, updated every five years by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services, have long prompted jousting among nutrition advocates and food industry interests, like pork producers and soda companies, seeking to influence the final document. But the process this year is especially fraught, given the Trump administration’s skepticism of science and its well-established deference to corporate interests.

More than half of this year’s panel has ties to the food industry, and the scientists leading newly created subcommittees on pregnant women, lactating mothers and toddlers have ties to the baby food industry.

Some groups have criticized federal officials for omitting questions about red meat and salt consumption from the 80 diet-related questions that panel members were charged with answering. And government watchdog groups have questioned the panel’s objectivity.

“Amid a pandemic made worse by diet-related disease that’s hitting black and Indigenous communities hardest, junk food corporations should be paying for their abuses, not stacking scientific panels and official drafting committees,” said Ashka Naik, the research director at the advocacy group Corporate Accountability.

In a statement, the Department of Agriculture said panel members were nominated by the public and that those chosen were required to submit financial disclosure forms that were reviewed by agency staff members for possible conflicts of interest. The entire process, it noted, has garnered 62,000 public comments.

“Throughout the entire 2020-2025 dietary guidelines process, 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,” Pam Miller, the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service Administrator, said in the statement.

The final guidelines, scheduled for release later this year, shape federal food programs in schools, prisons and military bases that sustain one in four Americans.

The coronavirus pandemic has fueled a greater sense of urgency over the guidelines, given emerging research suggesting that people with diet-related illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease have a significantly higher risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19.

Such diseases, like Covid-19 itself, have struck African-American and Hispanic communities particularly hard. The members of the nutrition panel, however, are almost all white.

“People of color are already disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases but Covid-19 has really placed a magnifying glass on the health disparities that make us more vulnerable to the pandemic,” said Dr. Yolandra Hancock, a pediatrician and obesity expert at George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health. “My concern is that these guidelines, heavily influenced by the food and beverage industry, will dictate what kinds of food are offered at schools and set the eating habits of children, particularly black and brown children, for the rest of their lives.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2020 at 10:24 am

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