Who is Compensating the Food Guidelines Committee?

May 22, 2012

Who is Compensating the Food Guidelines Committee? 

 Reference:  Nutrition Action, Sept 2004 Volume 31 

 There is a lot of interest going on right now about obesity in America.  How did we all get so fat?   We have skyrocketing rates of obesity that is driving up health care costs, creating huge personal torment and travail, and making our society less competitive economically.  The US Dept of Agriculture is the body of authority in America tasked with telling us what food we should eat.  They design the food guidelines that we follow.  

The question arises, have we been given bad advice?  The science of just what we “should eat” is quite complex, but there is now abundant evidence that what we are eating and doing is almost diametrically opposite to what we should be eating. My first instinct, in my aging years, is to recognize that people behave by their own economic instincts.  

Aka, follow the money.  If you know who is compensating someone, you can figure out why they behave.   I am increasingly coming to the point of believing that many mysteries and odd human behaviors are made much more clear when we know where the money is coming from.  (Just look at Congress and ask why they are so resistant to absolute transparency in their political fundraising.)  

So, how about the food guidelines?   If you read Michael Jacobsen’s article in Nutrition Action, you will find out what all the leading officers of the USDA were doing for a living prior to going to work for the government, and setting food policy.  Guess who they all worked for?  Giant agribusinesses.  These are the folks who sell you our food.  Are they experts in keeping you healthy?  No.  Their expertise is in selling you stuff you can’t resist.  

Is their goal to keep you healthy, or to sell you a bit more food?  Answer: a bit more food.  And they are paid by agribusiness.   In Oct of 2000, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine had to sue to find out who was paying the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Committee.  It wasn’t open and public knowledge.  And the answer is….?   Six of 11 had financial ties to the food industry, including the chair.   The fox is in the hen house.  

If Americans cut out 100 calories a day, agribusiness in America would lose $ 40 billion a year.  Can you expext agribusiness to voluntarily cut their business model and reduce their income.  What are their incentives?  I would contend that they are intently focused on molding public policy to keep them out of the limelight, and still selling as much as they can tempt you to buy.  And then blame it on you for not being able to resist. The conflict of interest is beyond rational behavior.   

The argument is made that they are the experts at food.   I would argue that they have been expert at making confusion by making obfuscating advice that you can’t really follow.  Example: “Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fat and less than 300 calories a day of cholesterol.”   Sounds neat, doesn’t it.  Do you follow it?  Can you?  Of course not.  It takes a degree in dietetics to follow that advice.    Another example:  “Keep total fat between 20-35% of calories.”  Do you do that?  Is there any proof that that reverses heart disease and diabetes?  No, and no. 

 WWW.  What will work for me.   I believe we need much more simple advice.  The food guidelines that have been issued are consistently stupid and utterly unable to be followed by normal folks.   Furthermore, they don’t work.  So we blame you.  I would suggest that all of that is actually intentional public policy created by the reach of economic interests lobbying Congress to push economic agendas.  And just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.   But you are in the crosshairs and you are failing.  There are better answers.  Next week we’ll start on them.

Pop Quiz

1.    Do you trust someone who worked for "big food" to give you dietary advice?     Answer?

2.    Have you ever calculated the percent of your diet that is fat?     Answer?

3.    Have the dietary guidelines helped you, at all?       Answer:   NO

4.    Does it bother you that 6 of 11 Dietary Guideline Committee members are actually paid by the food industry?

5.   Has there been proof that cutting fat works to reduce American Obesity?    Answer:  No

Column written by John E Whitcomb, MD Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI